West Virginia wish kid Xander lived every young soccer player's dream as he played on field with one of his favorite teams, the Seattle Sounders. From signing a contract and training with the team to playing in the starting lineup and having thousands of soccer fans chant his name, it was an experience that he will never forget.
Xander, who has had a life-long battle with cystic fibrosis, was added to the Sounders' active roster on Wednesday, July 16. Media interviewed Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid on Thursday, July 17, about signing Bailey.
"It's an exciting day for the club," said Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid. "We have been searching for a midfielder and we were able to find Xander in West Virginia. We are really excited that he is going to be joining our team and we are looking forward to him being here in time for our game against Tottenham Hotspur."
Xander, who has played soccer for the last 10 years with the East River Raptors, New River United, the King's Warriors and West Virginia Raptors, practiced alongside Sounders FC stars Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin on Friday before the team's international friendly against the Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
“I’m really blessed to be here and have the opportunity to play with players like this, especially Dempsey and Yedlin – players that are on the national team,” said Xander. “I was very excited. Especially coming out here and playing … and doing what I love to do. It’s a great time.”
The biggest surprise came Saturday, when Xander was announced as part of the starting lineup against Tottenham. At CenturyLink Field, hundreds of fans were chanting his name and holding up signs with his jersey number as he took to the field and had the team's first shot on goal. A banner that read, "Xander Bailey, Once a Sounder, Always A Sounder," could easily be spotted in the stands. The match aired on ESPN2 and Xander's professional debut made ESPN's Sportscenter. After the game, he signed autographs as a true soccer star.
“It was wild, man,” Xander said. “Going out there was an experience I’ll always remember.”
Photo credit: Corky Trewin