Vargas makes MLS debut at 15, third-youngest in league history

July 23, 2021

Obed Vargas

He’s not old enough to get his driver’s license, but Anchorage’s Obed Vargas did chauffeur in a new era for Alaska soccer.

The 15-year-old made his Major League Soccer debut and became the third-youngest player to appear in the country’s premier league.

The marvelous midfielder started for the Seattle Sounders and played 77 minutes in a 1-0 victory over Austin FC, and was named one of the ‘Men of the Match.’

With Seattle missing 10 senior squad members, the Sounders turned to their junior players to make up the second-youngest starting lineup in MLS history.

The youth movement is underway in Seattle and Vargas is part of the new wave.

Vargas is the third Alaskan to play in the MLS, joining Anchorage’s Ely Allen and Hunter Sulte.

Ely Allen

Hunter Sulte

Allen played five seasons in the MLS for four teams from 2008 to 2011. Sulte made his MLS debut in May with the Portland Timbers.

Alaska didn’t have an MLS player for a decade, now we’ve had two make it in a matter of months.

“It’s thrilling to see Alaskans in the MLS. Social media is blowing up,” said 20-year Alaska soccer coach Dan Rufner. “Just cool for (local) kids to see possibilities.”

Vargas comes from a soccer pedigree. His father, also named Obed, played professionally in Mexico.

He’s a chip off the old block.

“His dad really coached him up, so he was really groomed,” Rufner said.

Vargas has been in the Seattle Sounders farm system for the last two years, first with the Sounders Academy and then with the Tacoma Defiance, a reserve team for the big club that plays in the USL Championship league.

He was called up last week and put on the roster, leading to speculation that he would make his MLS debut against the Minnesota Union.

Even though he got a shoutout by the ESPN commentators in that game, he did not play. Four days later, his number was called.

At 15 years, 341 days, Obed Vargas is the third-youngest player in MLS history. Who is the youngest? Freddy Adu. In 2004, at 14 years, 306 days, Adu debuted with D.C.

Sulte is also in the MLS record book. The 6-foot-7 goalkeeper is the tallest player to start an MLS match.

Vargas and Sulte both left Alaska as 13-year-olds to pursue their dreams of playing professional soccer.

Rufner was quick to point out they were developed in Alaska.

“We don’t have a lot of depth but we can produce quality players and Alaska is doing a good job at starting players off,” Rufner said.

Ten years ago, this would have been impossible.

Since then, though, MLS teams have created youth academies, which has opened doors and provided more opportunities for the players like Vargas and Sulte to move up the ladder.

“Plus, we are doing a better job at getting (Alaska) players to events where they are not just scouted by college coaches but also by MLS and academies,” Rufner said. “Some with clubs, but a lot of this is the Alaska Development Program getting to events such as ODP champs (where MLS and academy coaches now scout) and small state friendlies in Boise, where Mike Smith, director of Timbers academy, comes with staff just to recruit players from places like Alaska, Idaho and Montana.”