Head Coach Alex Ruiz (middle), Owen Ortega-Phillips (right) and George Lewis (left) at the SeaTac Airport. (Photo provided by Alex Ruiz)

Head Coach Alex Ruiz (middle), Owen Ortega-Phillips (right) and George Lewis (left) at the SeaTac Airport. (Photo provided by Alex Ruiz)

Kent-Meridian HS sends coach and two players to D.C. for MLS All-Star Week

Alex Ruiz, Owen Ortega-Phillips and George Lewis represented the Sounders.

Alex Ruiz is one of the younger coaches in high school that you’ll find. The 21-year-old just finished his first season as the Kent-Meridian High School unified soccer head coach. He and two Royal players just returned from Washington, D.C., and played in the Special Olympics Unified All Star Game.

“It was an opportunity for me that just came up, you know? I never thought I would get an opportunity like that ever,” Ruiz said.

Once Ruiz knew playing soccer wasn’t in his future, an old coach turned his eyes toward the sidelines.

“He told me, ‘I know you don’t want to play professionally or in college, maybe give coaching a try,’” said Ruiz.

And give it a try he did. His first stop was coaching his former coach’s son’s team for two years.

“At first I wasn’t sure about it. But then as I grew better connections with the kids, that’s what got me reeled in,” he said.

Ruiz has always been a fan of soccer, playing the sport growing up. Sharing that opportunity to love the game is something important for him.

He joined players Owen Ortega-Phillips and George Lewis in a trip to D.C. to represent the Seattle Sounders at the MLS All-Star week.

“It was amazing, it was so fun. I had a lot of mixed emotions. I met my favorite player. I was happy about that,” said Ruiz. “It was beyond anything that I could have explained. The players knew that too.”

Ruiz was able to coach on the sidelines and meet players from the MLS and Arsenal out of the Premier League.

“At the game we had an MLS player coach with us. Having him on the field and helping coach us was a big opportunity for us to take a step forward and help the sport become more inclusive,” Ruiz said.

To give his kids that opportunity is something that Ruiz will never forget.

“They were just happy they got the opportunity to represent the Sounders,” he said.

The opportunity to do this came about from a connection Ruiz had made around the sport. There was no application or contest to win — just being in the right spot at the right time. He had a good relationship with Emily Carter, who provided him the opportunity.

“She reached out to me and told me I started with nothing and asked if I wanted to represent the Sounders. I would do anything to help the unified program,” Ruiz said. “That’s quite the offer and I couldn’t refuse it.”

He was very grateful for what the school has done for him and the support they have given him: “KM was a big part of this too. Without them and the team, I wouldn’t have gotten here.”

On the unified side of sports, the teams and schedules are a bit different than the other programs. This means new rivalries and competitions against schools that normally Kent-Meridian wouldn’t play.

“At first we are focused on having fun out there and stuff like that. But then my kids started getting fired up and the other teams got fired up, so now we have a rivalry with Roosevelt and West Seattle. Those are our biggest games,” Ruiz said.

Going into year two, he’s excited for what’s to come.

“I definitely look for effort when I am coaching... When I was playing I felt like I left regret on the field and felt like I didn’t give my 110%. I don’t want my players to feel like that. I want them to play like it’s the last game of the season and have fun with that,” he said. “Owen never touched a sport in his life...He showed me he could push himself out of his comfort zone and that’s what I am for. George never played soccer, he was a baseball player. In our league he was the scoring leader.”

Last season every game the Royals played was on the road. Ruiz is hoping this year to get a couple home games at French Field.

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