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A little help from the pros: Sounders work with young soccer players
The outdoor soccer fields were dark last Monday night — closed because of heavy rain — but inside the McMurray gym, nearly 30 boys from the Vashon Island Soccer Club were practicing hard, focusing on their foot work. Weaving in and out of the boys, giving instruction and encouragement, were three professional soccer players: Taylor Graham, Roger Levesque and Nate Jacqua, who was leading that part of the night’s practice.
The men are all part of the hugely popular Seattle Sounders Major League Soccer team, and over the past several months they have come to Vashon for community autograph sessions and to work directly with kids, teaching them some of the finer points of play and, with their considerable skill, embodying the importance of practice and perseverance.
Preston Scheer, a 13-year-old soccer enthusiast at Monday’s practice, said he loves it when the pros visit the Island.
“The best thing is we learn a lot more about soccer every time they come out,” he said.
Preston is the lucky son of Island soccer coach Mark Scheer, who is responsible for bringing Jacqua, a valuable forward for the Sounders, to the Island several times and Graham and Levesque twice.
“For a guy like me, just having them come for an autograph session would have been really special,” Scheer said. “But to have them work with my boys — oh my gosh.”
Scheer, a lawyer, has coached soccer for 32 years, 13 of them on the Island, and for 10 years, he has coached two of his kids’ teams, making soccer a big part of his life, fall, winter and spring.
Scheer and Jacqua grew up in Eugene and played at the same high school, where Scheer also coached before Jacqua came along. Last year, Scheer capitalized on those shared roots and through a mutual friend asked Jacqua if he would come to the Island for an autograph session.
Jacqua said yes, and 250 people turned out to have posters, photos and soccer jerseys signed.
“Nate and I really hit it off, and we’ve become friends,” Scheer said. “He’s a really nice guy.”
So nice, in fact, that since then he has visited Vashon four more times to share his skills and love of the game with Island kids.
Hundreds of kids play soccer on the Island, and there is no way Jacqua could work with all of them. Given the connection with Scheer, he has worked mostly with Scheer’s boys’ teams, this year an under-13 team called the Velocity.
“The kids go crazy,” Scheer said. “They love it”
Vashon Island Soccer Club President Greg Martin has high praise for the Sounders’ coaching skills. The players always come with a plan, communicate well, give the boys ideas and — important when working with a group of middle schoolers — know when it is time to move on and do something different.
“They have been absolutely incredible in running the practices,” Martin said.
Last Monday in the gym, where two under-13 boys teams were practicing, Scheer held a soccer juggling contest. The prize for the two winners? Two jerseys, signed by all the Sounders — each one worth several hundred dollars if sold, Sheer noted, but used instead as inspiration to work on soccer skills.
Charlie McBride, whose dad Jim McBride assists Scheer with coaching the team, was one of the winners. “I was really, really happy,” Charlie said.
The pros, of course, do more than coach from the sidelines. They are on the field or floor with the boys, their talent on full display.
“They bring incredible soccer skills,” Martin said. “And by seeing it in person, it creates a lot of energy amongst the boys to see what these people can do.”
Charlie boiled their contribution down to the basics: “I really like that they teach us a lot of stuff,” he said. “And they’re really nice.”
The men’s visit to Vashon last Monday night came at a big moment for their own team. The Sounders had just played this season’s first Major League Soccer playoff game the day before. Even so, they stayed to coach Scheer’s under-18 girls team as well.
Jacqua, 29, remembers what it was like to be a teenager with a passion for the sport. When he started playing soccer, it was not nearly as popular as it is now. But sports were important in his house — his dad had played professional football for three years — and Jacqua said he played every sport imaginable. Like many kids on Vashon, his mom was his soccer coach until his early teens, and ultimately, the sport took center stage. By the time he was in eighth grade, he knew he wanted to be a professional soccer player.
“It was really my life from 12 through college,” he said.
One of the draws of the sport, and one of the reasons soccer appealed to him so much, he said, is that it’s not a game of set plays, like football, but one that calls on players to think fast on the field, using skills they have been taught.
“It is a free-flowing game, and kids have to make their own decisions,” he said. “On the field, they have to be the ones to be creative, to figure it out.”
As for his trips to Vashon, Jacqua says he is happy to come over. “The kids are great. It’s fun for us. We enjoy it,” he said.
While it is not unusual for professional soccer players to coach in their communities, Scheer said he does not know of any other soccer club that has the kind of connection with a professional soccer player that Vashon has with Jacqua.
Part of that connection might be because Jacqua and his fellow Sounders do not just come to Vashon to play; they come here to eat.
The first time Jacqua came to Vashon, Martin said, he thought about what the Island had to offer Jacqua. Dinner was an obvious answer. Martin asked Jacqua if he would like to go out to a restaurant or have a barbecue at his house. Jacqua, Martin recalled, said he would prefer a barbecue.
It was a beautiful summer evening, Martin recalled, with grilled chicken, salad from the garden and other soccer coaches and kids there to enjoy it together. At one point in the evening, Jacqua was out in the yard, giving defensive tips to Martin’s 11-year-old son.
That night set the stage for home-cooked dinners for Jacqua and the other Sounders who join him on his cross-the-Sound ventures. For the second dinner, Martin, a home beer-brewer, brewed a special batch in honor of Jacqua and made some beer glasses with an action shot of Jacqua on them.
Alecia Carter and her family have hosted three of the soccer dinners. Carter’s daughter plays on Scheer’s girls’ team, which Carter manages. Jacqua wants kids to be at the dinners, Carter noted, and Scheer tries to spread the invitations around to various soccer club volunteers and kids. She admitted to being nervous the first time they came over, but quickly got over that.
“I would adopt Nate if I could,” she joked. “They are genuinely a very sweet group of guys. I adore having them. I’d cook for them any time they’d let me.”
Preston Scheer agreed. “They’re actually quite nice,” he said. “We have great conversations.”
Carter, a cheerleader earlier in life, said that she put some of those old skills to use and made banners to hang at the Sounders games. The first said, “Vashon Jacqua.” This summer, Graham, Levesque and fellow Sounder Mike Fucito came to Vashon with Jacqua for an autograph signing and told Carter they wanted banners, too. She complied. Now the four banners hang at the Vashon section of the Sounders’ stadium, sometimes where the Vashon season ticket-holders sit — right behind the Sounders bench — and other times where Vashon fans sit when they go en masse to the games.
These Vashon-goes-to-the-Sounders days are also arranged by Scheer. One of his former employees works in the Sounders’ front office, and three to four times a season, Scheer arranges for group discount tickets so more Island kids can see the games. The groups have varied in size from 20 to 120.
The Vashon-Sounders connection — from the work with the kids to the trips to the games — benefits Vashon’s sizeable soccer community, Scheer says.
“It enhances everyone’s experience with soccer,” he said.
Martin, who oversees the ever-growing soccer club, agrees, and hopes to maintain the connection.
“If they can come out, we’ll make time for them, that’s for sure,” he said.