Wallis Lapsley, a 23-year-old Seattle, Washington native, didn’t play much as a goalkeeper until he moved to Mexico when he was 10 years old. During his time in Mexico, Lapsley was a head taller than all the other kids and often found wearing an Oswaldo Sanchez goalkeeper jersey, a player regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in Mexican football history. So when Lapsley went out one day to join a team, the local kids naturally responded with, “Okay, but you’re portero.” The rest was history and from there Wallis set out on a path that would lead to success with UC Davis, New York Red Bulls II, MLS SuperDraft, and a new start with FC Tucson.
How and what got you into soccer?
Lapsley: Growing up I competed in all sports. I used to joke that my favorite sport was the sport I was playing right now. The moment I got into soccer was when my family moved to San Cristobal de las Casas, a town in Chiapas, Mexico. I knew I wanted to play soccer so my dad and I would go to the park and look for teams. Eventually, we found a team that would come and let me play. The only jersey that I had was an Oswaldo Sanchez goalkeeper jersey and I was a head taller than everyone else, so from then on, I played in goal. Once I came back to the U.S. and played seriously in high school, I realized I could have an opportunity to keep playing collegiate soccer.
What was it like to grow up in Mexico?
Lapsley: It was an awesome experience in many ways. I remember when I found out we were moving to Mexico I had just come back from basketball practice and my sister was sad. She said “we are moving to Mexico,” and since she was my younger sister I thought she was joking. Then my parents told me we were moving and I was sad at first because I wasn’t going to be able to hang out with my friends and play little league in Seattle. Mostly I was afraid because there are a lot of new things when you are little and moving to a different country. We had to learn Spanish quickly to communicate with people, so when we first got there it was hard to adjust, but over time it was great. The people were super welcoming and patient with me. After a few months, I felt comfortable with the language and it only got better from there. Now it is a great skill to be able to speak another language. Overall I would say the experience was life-altering as a 10-year-old kid getting to experience a different culture that has shaped who I am today.
What was the soccer culture like in Mexico?
Lapsley: In Mexico, it is the undisputed number one sport, whereas here in the U.S. we have a few sports including soccer that can be argued as the number one sport. Everyone is watching and talking about soccer all the time. Also, every person has a club team they grew up watching since they were a kid and everyone watches the national team when they play.
What led you to play goalkeeper?
Lapsley: I was always ball-oriented as a kid. My parents would bring up that my first word was “ball”. I think being able to use my hands was a big factor because I was not very good with my feet. I was not very good at the beginning of being a goalkeeper and I was begging the coach to let me play other positions. Once we got back to the U.S. I got back into playing goalie and I had some success early on in my career, which was key for a position where you fail a lot. It is a pretty high-profile position because everybody can see the ball go in the back of the net. Getting used to using my hands and then having some early success kept me going and I only got better from there.
Who is your biggest influence both on and off the pitch? And in Mexico?
Lapsley: For sure my parents are a big influence. I got my work ethic from my dad who is a high school teacher and my mom who is an oncology nurse. They both work hard and I followed their lead in diligently working no matter how I feel. Both my parents have been supportive in different ways, my Dad would always take me to the soccer field at the school he worked at. My Mom was not as involved on the training side of soccer but she was always very supportive. She also always had a different perspective of the game when I was playing badly.
On the pitch, I would say Kasey Keller who was the starting goalkeeper for the Seattle Sounders. He is from Washington so he was always one person that I looked up to and enjoyed watching. Once he retired I liked watching Nick Rimando, which is funny because we are very different physically in terms of the way we play the position, but I was inspired by his longevity.
In Mexico, I would say my coach Profe Oscar and his son Oscarín were two really important influences in teaching me about the game of soccer and toughening me up. They take soccer very seriously and did not coddle me after I made mistakes which helped me.
What was it like playing professionally for the first time?
Lapsley: It was something that I had wanted to do for a long time and I worked hard for it, so it felt awesome. When I made my debut last year in New York, it was one of those moments during that national anthem that I took a step back and thought, wow I am a professional soccer player. From there once the game started I let that feeling go and just played.
What was it like getting drafted in the MLS SuperDraft?
Lapsley: My family and I were watching the draft on my Mom’s computer in the kitchen. We were keeping an eye on the names coming up and then at the 36th pick my name popped up. It was cool to share that moment with other people and it was fun to respond to other people’s phone calls congratulating me. It was also a moment where all the hard work and the hard work of the people around me paid off which felt amazing.
What brought you to FC Tucson?
Lapsley: I was looking for a team in the offseason and it is a strange market due to covid. When coach Galas and the FC Tucson staff reached out to my agent, I was excited. I had been to Tucson with the New York Red Bulls during the preseason last year, so I had the chance to check out the facility and town. I was impressed and I enjoyed the two weeks I spent in Tucson. When the opportunity presented itself I was excited and it became apparent to me that this could be a good fit for me. I am happy that we got a deal done and I am excited to join the team.