SEATTLE - JUNE 23: Roger Levesque #24 of the Seattle Sounders FC (C) is mobbed by teammates after scoring the first of his two goals against the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field on June 23, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders defeated the Red Bulls 4-2. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
CenturyLink is sure to be buzzing as Champions League winners Chelsea take the pitch, but for Sounders die-hards the focus will be on the legacy of retiring Seattle legend Roger Levesque.
It says a lot about the legend of Roger Levesque that Chelsea FC, one of England's biggest clubs and the reigning European champions, would drop everything to come and play a testimonial for the Sounders legend. Though it may seem silly that a team chock-full of stars fresh off the European Championships would fly halfway across the world in order to play an exhibition game, when one of the true contemporary legends of the game is hanging up his boots and you have the opportunity to pay your respects, there's no hurdle high enough to keep any team from having the honor of taking part in what will undoubtedly be a day to remember.
In seriousness, friendly time in Seattle is typically somewhat contentious; there are debates surrounding the value of playing exhibition games during the middle of the season and the merits of placing the financial benefits and marketing opportunities ahead of competitiveness. And though those debates have not disappeared entirely, the news that this would be Roger Levesque's last game as a Sounder has tempered them somewhat. Far from an elite talent at the MLS level, his longevity in the game more a product of versatility, work rate, and a willingness to do whatever was needed at any given time than sheer talent or skill. A Sounder since 2003, Levesque has represented the club across three different eras and has embraced his role as a fan-favorite and face of the team with an endearing mix of enthusiasm, humility, and self-awareness.
Roger Levesque is the kind of player that makes MLS such an interesting and accessible league to follow. Though the increasing disappearance of players like Levesque from the league is another sign of the growth and development of MLS, it doesn't make it any less melancholy when the end of the road arrives; Roger Levesque is a Sounders legend, a bridge to the past, and though there will always be evolution in professional sports-evolution that is typically for the better in the long run-part of the joy is celebrating those that have gotten us to where we are today.
But of course, this game was scheduled well before Levesque's retirement was announced. And though the narrative has shifted somewhat, there's little doubt that for many in attendance this evening at CenturyLink the Blues are the main attraction. There's little sense in attempting to do any real analysis of this match; Chelsea is clearly the superior side by several miles, neither team will be playing at 100% effort, and both coaches will use this game as an opportunity to give playing time to some lesser-utilized players. Still, if past friendlies are any indication, the first half should play out similarly to a normal game; both teams will likely start close to full-strength sides, with the wave of substitutions beginning to kick in around the 60th minute. That means there's a good chance Chelsea will feature names such as David Luiz, Ramires, Frank Lampard and marquee summer signing Eden Hazard for a good portion of the evening. The next generation of Chelsea stars will also likely on display, with Romelu Lukaku, Marko Marin, Josh McEachran and Kevin DeBruyne in the squad for tomorrow evening's game. On the Sounders end, there's a very good chance that Steve Zakuani will make another appearance.
But despite the tremendous blue-clad talent on display, the compelling story for Sounders fans is undoubtedly Roger Levesque. There's a friendly every year, and though the names and faces change the feeling is generally the same. But there is most assuredly only one Roger Levesque. It may well be time for him to call it a day and move on to his next life, but things will never be quite the same without him.