Where There's a Will: Bates Drafted By MLS Team
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Jan 24, 2013, 15:04
Will Bates, a former soccer standout at Thomas Dale High School and the University of Virginia, was selected by the Seattle Sounders with the fifth overall pick in the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft on Tuesday. Bates scored 47 career goals in high school and 46 in college (photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics).
Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Will Bates’ pursuit of his longest-standing ambition mirrored his playing style on the soccer field — dogged, persistent and physically taxing. His efforts came to fruition on Tuesday.
The former standout at Thomas Dale High School and the University of Virginia was selected by the Seattle Sounders with the fifth overall pick in the Major League Soccer Supplemental Draft. Including the picks from last week’s MLS SuperDraft, Bates was taken 43rd overall.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bates said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had dreams of playing professional soccer. Now that I’ve been given that opportunity to get a spot and be a part of the Seattle Sounders organization, I’m pretty excited about it.”
If offered a contract, Bates will become the first Thomas
Chester native Will Bates was drafted on Tuesday by the Seattle Sounders (photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics).
Dale graduate to reach the MLS and the third to play professional soccer. He was a four-year varsity starter for the perennial Central Region powerhouse.
Bates helped the Knights win their second straight Group AAA state title as a freshman in 2006. Equal parts talented and versatile, he racked up 47 goals and 46 assists in a sparkling high school career that saw him start at forward, center midfield and once at center back.
“He was always very mature,” said Thomas Dale coach Mark Fowler. “And he had a good size about him as well, so he never lacked any strength or speed. He had the physical attributes right from the start.”
Though the needs of his high school teams often cast him in different roles, Bates’ build is that of a prototypical center forward – a role he flourished in at Virginia.
Bates’ career with the Cavaliers followed the same trajectory as his high school playing days. He netted 46 goals – 15 game-winners – and carved out a reputation as an elite goal poacher in the renowned Atlantic Coast Conference.
An aggressive player with an uncanny ability to score from close range and set pieces, Bates specializes in results … not aesthetics.
“In every sport, you just have those guys that can score,” said Virginia coach George Gelnovatch. “Some guys do it different ways. Will’s not a finesse guy. He’s not a guy that’s going to dribble and beat you. He’s a guy that’s very good in the box.”
Bates was named to the 2009 ACC All-Freshman Team and received first-team all-conference recognition in 2011 and 2012. However, high-flying as his college career was, it was not without turbulence.
On Oct. 21, 2011, Bates’ promising junior campaign came to a screeching halt in the 70th minute of a game against Virginia Tech. Ranked seventh in the nation with 14 goals, Bates tore his right anterior cruciate ligament on what he called a “freak play.”
Bates underwent surgery and began a grueling rehabilitation schedule – “I was living in the training room,” he joked – and didn’t don the Cavaliers’ uniform again until the second game of his senior year.
Asked whether he ever questioned his ability to make a full recovery during his twice-a-day rehab sessions, Bates replied, “Never once.”
“The second that kind of thought came into my head would have been when I called it quits,” he explained. “That’s just not the type of person I am. It was kind of just motivation. Nobody said it was going to be easy, so that was just another one of those things that I needed to overcome.”
While Bates bounced back to score 12 goals in his senior season at U.Va., he admitted that he hasn’t felt 100 percent since the injury. Perhaps most frustratingly for the forward, the torn ligament came with a stigma.
Bates’ standing as one of the most physical professional prospects in the nation was suddenly stained by pundits’ claims that he was injury-prone.
Making matters worse, he learned shortly before the SuperDraft that he had been playing with a slight tear in his meniscus and will require minor surgery on his right knee before starting a new season. His draft stock took another hit, and draft day came and went last Thursday with Bates still unclaimed.
Despite the setback, Bates said he expects to be back on the pitch in four to six weeks and hopes the procedure will rid him of the pain that he played through during his final year in Charlottesville.
Moreover, Bates said being passed over in the SuperDraft makes him more appreciative of Seattle’s decision to overlook his troublesome right knee. He hopes to contribute to the team in his first season, he said, and will be pursuing that goal with a chip on his shoulder.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that the Sounders have given me,” Bates said. “To take me with their top pick in the Supplemental Draft obviously shows a commitment to a player like me who’s not healthy and is going to require something.
“They knew that, so seeing that commitment from their side is really motivating, and it just makes me want to prove them right and prove my worth to them.”
He will have to, if he hopes to stick around in the Emerald City. In the MLS, draft selections are not guaranteed professional contracts. Rather, all incoming players compete for a finite number of roster spots.
Some wondered whether Bates’ athleticism would translate to the college game. Likewise, many scouts question how effective his bruising style will be against MLS-caliber defenders.
Fowler believes he knows the answer to those inquiries.
“I think he’ll work hard, get a contract for himself and be very successful,” Fowler said. “I really do.”