Sean Okoli (right) played for the Sounders U-18 team against the US U-17 squad.
Courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC

Sounders to add academy grads in 2011

SEATTLE — To offset the inevitable losses from the Expansion Draft and to prepare for the upcoming Reserve League, the Sounders are preparing to welcome their first academy graduates into the ranks of the senior team.

At the end of September, technical director Chris Henderson indicated that he’s looking to bring in two to three Academy players onto the Sounders roster in 2011.

Recently, the success of academy graduates with other MLS clubs has shown the academy system to be a viable method for producing MLS-caliber players. Andy Najar and Bill Hamid at D.C. United, Tristan Bowen in Los Angeles and Juan Agudelo in New York are a few examples of players who have found playing time with their club’s senior teams.

Strong results from Seattle’s Under-18 team would seem to indicate that a few players would be able to successfully compete at the MLS level.

Last month at Qwest Field, the Sounders U-18s played to a 3-3 draw against the US U-17 national team. Later, they swept the academy teams from Chivas USA and Los Angeles Galaxy in Southern California.

This past weekend, the Sounders U-18s (5-0-3 this fall) won twice against teams from San Jose, Calif.

Seattle also have a U-16 team, but former MLSer and current Sounders director of youth development Darren Sawatzky grades the U-18s as a stronger team simply because of a packed roster that includes players with US youth national team experience, such as ‘keeper Ryan Herman and strikers DeAndre Yedlin and Sean Okoli.

Nick Palodichuk, the 2010 Parade Magazine Player of the Year from Camas, Wash., also trains with the Academy.

Before making any judgments, Henderson wants to see how some of the academy players compete in training against older individuals. Furthermore, other variables, such as college scholarships, must be taken into account.

Okoli, for example, has an offer to attend Wake Forest University. In such cases, the club and player need to make a decision on the player’s future—it is possible for the club to retain rights to a player who chooses to continue his development by attending college.

On Tuesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced during his annual State of the League that rosters will expand from 24 players in 2010 to 30 in 2011. Those six additional spots, he said, would be reserved for 24 and under and won’t count against the teams’ $2.67 million salary cap.

According to Henderson, the number of academy players that make the jump to the senior squad for 2011 may depend on the decisions made by the Board of Governors during MLS Cup weekend.

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