The 36-year-old center back has made 347 career appearances for the Sounders and is something of a human bridge between the club’s minor-league and MLS eras.
Mr. Sounder is calling it quits.
Veteran defender Zach Scott, who has made 347 career appearances for the Sounders and formed a human bridge between the club’s minor-league and MLS eras, will retire at the end of this season, he revealed this week in an interview with the Seattle Times.
His decision isn’t injury-related. After playing through a broken foot for most of last season and dealing with an arthritic ankle for far longer than that, Scott actually feels healthier than he has in years, all things considered. This isn’t an admission that he’s past it, either – this campaign has been a trying one, he admits, but he still says he can play.
At 36 years old, 15 seasons into a remarkable career the player himself nearly ceded from the outset, it’s just time.
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“I was always worried that when I retired, it would be at a point where I felt like I didn’t have it any more, that it would be an easy decision,” Scott said. “… Now, it’s actually a good thing. At least I’m going out not hobbling around, not being pushed out of the team because I can’t do it anymore. I’m doing it of my own volition.”
Emotions would have been more complex had Scott retired this past offseason, which he seriously considered after the club declined his contract option. This campaign has been, in many ways, an extended testament to Scott’s stubborn tenacity.
He showed up the first day of preseason at Starfire Sports, same as always, with the promise only that the team would give him another look. In the story of his career in miniature and with Roman Torres still months away from returning from injury, Scott made himself invaluable.
That theme runs all the way back to his open tryout with the USL Sounders in 2002 — the first last shot in a career full of them – in which the Maui native and Gonzaga grad caught the eye of first-year coach Brian Schmetzer. Scott figured the jump to MLS in 2009 would represent the end of his road, but he caught on and made that stick, too.
A Zach Scott season followed a predictable plot. Written off in March, buried in the depth chart behind younger alternatives brought in during the previous winter, he would somehow end up back in the rotation by October.
The player few even expected to make the original Sounders MLS roster has appeared in 13 postseason games for the club, playing in every minute of Seattle’s run to the Western Conference finals in 2014 and in all three of its playoff games last year.
“I didn’t have expectations growing up to be a professional soccer player,” Scott said. “I wanted to be a waterman like my dad. I wanted to spearfish and windsurf. Soccer was a means of running off some energy that my parents put me in to get me out of the house.
“Each successive year after 2009 has been a blessing and something I’m really grateful for. But in the same sense, I didn’t have any expectation and when I look back, I don’t have any regrets with how things have gone.”
Scott is emblematic of a dying breed in MLS – the try-hard glue guys whose staying power is more down to willpower than fancy footwork or technical skill. His is the story of the rank-and-file class of players who laid the foundation for the league’s steady growth.
Scott’s salary has risen only with the league minimum, from $40,000 in ’09 to a veteran base of $62,500 this season, numbers according to the MLS Players’ Union. He credits his wife, Alana, a structural engineer, as the main reason why he’s been able to chase this “unreasonable dream” for as long as he has.
“I can’t even say that if she had a dream like this that I’d be as supportive as she’s been through this all,” Scott said. “I definitely haven’t pulled my weight. … To have her there and have my kids there to put everything in perspective has been really beneficial to lasting this long.”
Scott has already begun laying the groundwork for his second act. He’s been working part-time at Slalom Consulting — a Seattle-based firm that has partnered with the Sounders — picking up half-day shifts after training sessions with an eye on a full-time gig.
“It’s been a huge joy of mine to be able to move into something that’s very challenging,” Scott said with genuine enthusiasm that has in been in somewhat short supply this season at Starfire. “I really wanted to do something that, in the next five-to-10 years, I could look back on and say, ‘You know what? This is was the harder choice coming out of soccer, but it was the right choice.’”
He’s also going to spend suddenly free weekends with his kids – 11-year-old Kalei, 9-year-old Ka’ena and 5-year-old Lina — maybe even coach some of their youth soccer teams.
In the meantime, there are still games to be played. Few have been as vocal with their desire to extend the club’s streak of playoff qualification into an eighth year, and even fewer have so earned another storybook moment or two during the final stretch run of his career.
“The only thing I’ve wanted out of this is to give my kids a chance to grow up old enough to realize what a special time this was in our lives,” Scott said. “In that regard, my entire career has been a success, because my kids are old enough to realize that.”