Andrew Weber is a product of Arizona's fruitful youth soccer system, and he's excited about the direction the sport is going in his native state.
Weber, 28, is an Arizona soccer success story because he's made a career for himself in the sport. The goalkeeper from Tempe McClintock High School was part of a strong club program in the valley, and even drew interest from academy coaches from West Ham United, an English Premier League club, when Weber's team played in a tournament in Europe when he was 15.
Weber chose to stay in the U.S., and earned a scholarship to the University of New Mexico, then played with D.C. United as a reserve. Next came stops with then-second-division side Montreal Impact, followed by a couple of years with the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS. In March of this year, Weber was signed to compete for the backup goalkeeper job for the Seattle Sounders.
He won a roster spot, and despite a high ankle sprain suffered in April, has started six matches over all competitions.
Weber is currently down with a groin injury, but said he hopes to return to action soon. The Sounders have four goalkeepers on the roster at present, but the top two when the season began -- Michael Gspurning and Weber -- are recovering from injuries and should be ready to play again soon.
"It's frustrating," Weber said. "The last few games, they would have been games I would have possibly played in and kept getting that chance to prove to the coaching as well as myself that I can play in this league, and I can be the No. 1 (keeper)," Weber said. "What can you do? You just have to get your body back healthy and hopefully keep yourself healthy, so that when your opportunity comes again you don't let it drop."
Even if in the end, Seattle doesn't pan out for Weber, he could, hypothetically, have a place to play in Phoenix. Staying in MLS is ideal, but with the impending arrival of a USL Pro team (third division) to the Valley, it led to some light-hearted talk with Sounders teammate and another Phoenix-area guy, Brad Evans, about coming home.
"Me and Brad were talking about that the other day. We were joking around like 'Look, man, if our contracts don't get picked up we can always just go home and play,'" Weber said. "It's exciting. It would be awesome for guys like us to have an MLS team, hopefully it gets to that level, and have a team to go home to and play for... that would be ideal."
Weber has observed from afar what is happening in Arizona soccer-wise. There were no pro-level clubs to play for when he was coming up in the sport. Now there is playoff-bound FC Tucson in the Premier Development League, and this new team in Phoenix. And Weber believes an MLS team could make it in Phoenix under the right circumstances.
"I think there's a big following. I think there's a market there, and I hope the guys behind it, that are behind USL, are planning bigger things than that," Weber said. "I know that (USL Pro) is a stepping stone, and it's great. I just hope they can take that, do the right thing, get the right team together and with the right staff they can start building a strong following there so that in three or four years, maybe they can push for MLS."
Having said that, Weber is in no hurry to leave Seattle. He was happy the Sounders, specifically goalkeepers coach Tom Dutra, sought him out for a tryout during the preseason due to his considerable playing experience.
He recalls playing against the Sounders in the past and how amazing the fan support was for the team.
"It was amazing then, and it's even more amazing once you're actually a part of it," Weber said, calling Sounders fans the best anywhere. "You walk on the field with that jersey on representing Seattle, representing the city, the fans, the team, the organization. You could never have enough of it... I love what I do."