Sports

Eylander making the leap to Major League Soccer

Chris Eylander, a former University of Washington and Auburn Riverside High standout, is comfortable with his backup goalkeeping role for international star Kasey Keller and the Seattle Sounders FC, who soon will open their first MLS season.  - Matt Brashears / Reporter Newspapers
Chris Eylander, a former University of Washington and Auburn Riverside High standout, is comfortable with his backup goalkeeping role for international star Kasey Keller and the Seattle Sounders FC, who soon will open their first MLS season.
— image credit: Matt Brashears / Reporter Newspapers

When Chris Eylander joined the Seattle Sounders FC a few weeks ago, the new Major League Soccer team probably thought it was just getting a goalkeeper.

Now, they might get a new season ticket holder out of the deal, as well, if Auburn Riverside High School boys soccer coach Robyn Saarenas – who had Eylander in one of her classes at Riverside, but never got a chance to coach him there – fulfills the promise she made to herself.

“I was telling my students that I wasn’t going to buy season tickets unless Chris Eylander was on the team,” she said with a laugh. “It wasn’t a matter of whether he would play MLS. It was a matter of, ‘Who’s going to pick him up, and when is it going to happen?’ ”

Could have happened even sooner if Eylander had chosen to parlay a spectacular summer of 2007 into a shot at the show in 2008. But even after helping the Sounders win United Soccer Leagues First Division championship, he was willing to be patient.

Now, the guy who cut his soccer goalkeeping teeth right here, including a starring role in the net for Riverside, gets his shot at the show.

And he gets it right here, in training camp with the Seattle Sounders FC.

“I’ve been talking to (Sounders general manager) Adrian Hanauer for a while about it. I knew they definitely wanted me,” Eylander said. “It took a little bit longer than I was anticipating. But I feel real good know about having that certainty.”

Eylander and the rest of the Sounders opened training camp last week in Renton at the same brand-new facility the Seattle Seahawks call home. He did so as the No. 2 guy on the goalkeeping list – something he has no problem with at all.

Because No. 1 is Kasey Keller – a Northwest native who has taken his talent to the U.S. national team, to the English Premier League, to the World Cup.

Yeah – that Kasey Keller.

“I’ve already trained with him a few times, and I’ve learned quite a few things from him,” Eylander said of Keller, who’s now 38, but still has the shot-stopping stuff and will be a mentor of sorts for the next couple of seasons. “He has had a lot of success with his experience. I can learn a lot from him. I’m only a 24-year-old goalkeeper.”

CATCHING KELLER’S EYE

Keller, who signed with the Sounders this past fall, already likes what he sees in the one could take over that No. 1 spot in the not-too-distant future.

“What Chris has is a real foundation as a shot stopper,” Keller said. “That’s a big part of it. The next key is, how can you develop the rest of your game?

“I’ve trained with Chris the last eight weeks of the Sounders season (last summer in the United Soccer League’s First Divison). How much confidence can you give your defenders, to where they’re thinking, ‘He’s there, he’s always doing the right stuff for us, doing exactly what he needs to do.’

“He has that ability.”

Eylander was the man in the net when the Sounders won the USL-1 championship in 2007. He led the league in saves that year.

MLS types noticed.

“There was a lot of interest in me,” Eylander said. “Last year, one of the reasons I kind of wanted to stick around in the USL was I knew Seattle was getting an MLS team. And I also think by having Tom Dutra as my goalkeeping coach for another year, he has really developed me technically and (helped develop) a lot of my gamesmanship abilities.”

And wouldn’t you know it: The goalkeeping coach for the MLS Sounders is none other than Dutra.

“I thought two years ago this was something he was definitely able to do,” Dutra said of Eylander getting to MLS. “After we won (the 2007 USL-1 title), I told him, ‘The best thing you can do is stay here. The important thing is to be playing and getting games and keep training and keep growing. I told him it could be a good thing – it could lead to the possibility of signing with the new (Seattle) team.”

Camp will continue leading up to the Sounders’ opener on Thursday, March 19 against the New York Red Bulls at Qwest Field.

Eylander is bound to get into the action, although when and how much remains to be seen.

“I have an understanding that the coaches do intend for me to get in some games,” Eylander said. “I’m going to be watching a lot more than playing. But I’m OK with that. I’ll just keep working on my game and learning and working with Kasey in goal.”

Is Eylander ready for the next step?

“There’s only one way to find out,” Keller said. “That’s to get an opportunity and take advantage of it.”

Ciaran O’Brien plays in London

The Decatur High School graduate and current player for the Colorado Rapids of the MLS, recently returned from the soccer trip of a lifetime. O’Brien was named to a group of 16 young Major League Soccer players who went on an eight-day trip to London, as part of the annual Generation Adidias overseas tour.

The tour included three matches against English Premier League reserve teams, training at the Chelsea Academy, and tickets to an English Premier League match and a UEFA Champions League match.

O’Brien was the 5th overall pick in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, selected by the Rapids, after playing a season at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The midfielder and his team finished 0-3 during the trip, losing to West Ham United’s reserves, 3-2, Chelsea’s reserves, 4-0, and Reading FC’s reserves, 1-0. O’Brien had an assist against West Ham.

Sterling doesn’t get the call

Erik Sterling, a 2002 Decatur High School graduate, wasn’t selected as the winner of Sunday night’s Seattle Sounders FC’s SuperSearch reality TV show at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.

Sterling was selected as one of 10 finalists after three different tryouts across the state. Bellevue’s Vinicius “Vini” Oliveira was named the winner of the competition and earned a spot on Sounders FC’s roster.

The 2002 Decatur grad Sterling is a 5-foot-8, 156-pound midfield/forward, who currently lives in Des Moines. He played for the Federal Way United Thunder and Storm during his youth soccer days before starring at Decatur. During his tenure as a Gator, Sterling was part of Decatur’s back-to-back state championships in 2001 and 2002.

After graduating, Sterling went on to play at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona for one season in 2002 and led the Roughriders to a junior college national championship. He was named to the All-Arizona Community College Athletic Conference/Region I First-Team after scoring nine goals and dishing out eight assists during his freshman year. But personal issues forced Sterling to give up college soccer.

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