MLS: As retirement approaches, Seattle defender prepares for the start of his life, not the end

Kristan Heneage

For most players, retirement can be a stressful time. A period of great change, both personal and professional, it requires adjustment. For Zach Scott, the end date of his career is in sight after he agreed a new contract with the Seattle Sounders, his last in professional soccer.

“If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be content about moving on and finding another job, I wouldn’t have agreed,” Scott told Yahoo Sport UK. “I’d have said I’d be the guy in the corner crying because I wasn’t able to play soccer anymore.”

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Born in Wailuku, Hawaii, Scott’s start in soccer was anything but glamorous. “I remember playing on my elementary school field, and it rained a lot on the side of the island we lived on,” he said. “It was kind of muddy and you were happiest the muddier your kit was. My kids don’t believe in that: they’re always trying to dance around the mud [laughs].”

From there, Scott attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Graduating in 2001, he began his association with the Seattle Sounders a year later. A relationship that spans across the USL and Major League Soccer, from 4,500 seater stadiums to the vastness of CenturyLink Field, the journey surprises even him. “It’s hard to put it into perspective,” he said. “It’s not something I wanted or chased. I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a professional soccer player; it’s just something that’s happened. I grew up in Hawaii so I wanted to be a surfer. My dad was a waterman and a police officer so I wanted to just live in the water. That definitely isn’t the case anymore [laughs].”

Blessed with a relaxed attitude, the 35-year-old admits he isn’t feeling sentimental about the final chapter of his playing career. Released after Seattle’s playoff defeat to FC Dallas, Scott could have been forgiven for thinking it would be his last action in rave green. “No, never for a minute did I think it would be my last match for the Sounders,” he counters.

Scott is currently the longest serving player on the club’s roster, extending a 14 year association by signing his latest deal. “I’ve been fortunate enough, every year, to improve upon either my playing time, or the number of starts,” he explained. “I said to the coaches, that we have very similar conversations each year, and I tell them the same thing every year. When it comes down to it, when you need me, I’m going to be ready.”

It is that dependability which saw coach Sigi Schmid ask Scott to stay. The Sounders played the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League tie against Mexico’s Club América on Tuesday, drawing 2-2. A difficult test for the club ahead of their season opener against Sporting KC, Schmid believes that Scott’s experience will prove important. “It’s exciting to bring back a player who competes as hard as Zach does day in and day out,” he said, after agreeing a deal with the 35-year-old.

Scott is more than just dependable, however. Helping the team to collect four US Open Cup titles since 2009, he played the full 90 minutes in the 2014 final against the Philadelphia Union, a match the Sounders won 3-1. One of two trophies the team collected that year, Scott also played a part in earning the first Supporters’ Shield in the club’s history. Adding to prior achievements in the USL, it allows the defender to depart the team with an enviable list of achievements.

Happy to discuss that success, Scott consistently relates it back to his family. Citing them as integral to his life both on and off the field, his wife Alana has followed him every step of the way. “We’ve been together for 19 years - high school sweethearts,” he said. “The first time she walked into class I told my best friend that if I can get that girl, I’ll never let her go.”

A family man at heart, Scott’s wife will now enjoy having her husband on a more consistent schedule. A qualified math teacher, Scott is not yet ruling out remaining with the Sounders in a front office capacity. “They [the club’s owners] understand the culture of being a Sounders player,” Scott said. “It’s a unique organisation in that sense. They’re not only trying to win on the field, but they’re also trying to have players that are good people and relevant in the community. I think that’s why the Sounders have always done really well here in the north west. I mean, that’s definitely an option but one thing about the longevity of my career is that I’ve never taken anything for granted.”

Such self-awareness has been ever-present throughout our conversation. An unassuming individual, Scott has spent years accruing contacts, networking, and preparing for life away from the field. While many in the sport struggle to move on from the label of being a professional athlete, Scott seems different. Instead the Seattle defender is embracing the future, and what he sees as the start of his life, not the end.

“For me soccer is an awesome part of my life, but not the biggest part,” he said. “I’m very aware that the things that occur after soccer are going to be the more memorable stuff, so from that sense I prefer to leave quietly and have everyone forget who I am.”

Follow Kristan Heneage on Twitter: @KHeneage

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