Sounders midfielder Micheal Azira bares his teeth and growls like a dog after stepping off the practice field Friday. He’s telling a Sounders employee about his dog, Jack, that’s as tall as he is when it stands on its hind legs.
Jack is quite vicious, of course, and Azira demonstrates. Then he starts laughing. “I don’t even have a dog,” he snorts.
No one around is surprised by Azira’s antics. He’s known as the team prankster who keeps everyone’s spirits high. The sense of humor he brings to everyday situations is Azira’s way of appreciating the “dream come true” that is his life now.
From collecting soccer balls from behind the goal when he was 3 years old while his father played soccer, to starting three matches for the Sounders this year, it has been a long journey.
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A native of Uganda, the 26-year-old Azira moved to the United States in 2008 to attend Lindsey Wilson College, an NAIA school in Columbia, Ky. He transferred to the University of Mobile for his senior year, and was NAIA All-American honorable mention.
Despite not playing Division I soccer, Azira caught the eyes of the USL Premier Development League and the Ugandan U-20 and U-23 national teams.
Eventually, his talents caught the eyes of the Sounders, too. He was signed in March after a trial period.
“He’s versatile; he can play deep in midfield but he can also play as one of the outside backs, right or left, and that helps,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said when Azira was a trialist. “He’s just a good steady player that’s gotten along great with the group.”
Those relationships with the group are what Azira, who has been in nine matches and still looking for his first point, cherishes the most. He makes it a point to shake every teammate’s hand before each match. And even if he sometimes sneakily drops more weight on the players’ dumbbells while they’re working out, he still keeps their attitudes positive.
Optimism is one thing he’s learned that he wants to pass onto others. Azira loves to coach kids, and wants to pass on the lessons he has learned from the sport.
In Charleston, S.C., while he was playing in the USL, Azira coached the Daniel Island Soccer Academy U-16 and U-18 teams, and in Alabama, he was an assistant for UMS-Wright Preparatory School.
“I think it’s really important to be able to teach someone, invest your life in someone, to mentor someone, to be a good example to them,” he said. “People have helped me a lot, and if I get the chance to pass that on I think that would be great.”
Azira has had his fair share of helping people, too, in return for what they did for him. With his MLS paycheck, he helps support his parents and five siblings, all still living in Uganda.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “I help out as much as I can.”
Azira thinks he might want to be a coach when his playing – and practical joking – days are over. But until then, he’s just enjoying his time as a pro soccer player, a situation he envisioned for years.
And that’s no joke.