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

Developmental academy season a success for Sounders

FRISCO, Texas — After spending 27 of the last 45 days away from home, the Seattle Sounders’ first foray into a full-on academy season came to an exhausting close at the Generation adidas Cup last weekend.

Playing in 100-degree temperatures, Seattle’s results were mixed. The U-17s won just once in five games at the all-MLS Competition, while the U-15s fared better, drawing twice and winning twice to finish third out of eight teams.

The week wrapped up Seattle’s academy season, concluding their first year playing in the USSF Development Academy League.

“It’s up to the first team whether or not they sign players,” Sounders director of youth development Darren Sawatzky told “But in terms of the academy, I think we’ve had a lot of success in developing players for both the national team and the team itself.”

Sawatzky, who started his role of laying the foundations for the academy back in 2008, said there were many challenges playing in the Development Academy. And perhaps none was more daunting than the travel required to find good competition.

“We’re always on an airplane,” Sawatzky said.

Regardless, it didn’t stop Seattle’s young program from enjoying a strong year. Both the U-16s and U-18s won the Northwest Division, one of only three teams to accomplish that double.

While neither captured the national championship, the U-18s will be sending 10 players to renowned college powerhouses over the next couple of weeks. Promising prospects Sean Okoli (Wake Forest, above right), DeAndre Yedlin (Akron) and Nick Palodichuk (enrolled at Duke last spring) will all look to showcase their talents at the Division 1 level this fall.

All this early success is a credit to more than just the players themselves and the coaching staff.

“The four owners, general manager Adrian Hanauer in particular, who check off the boxes and says I can do this, have been unbelievable and supportive,” Sawatzky noted.

Like other MLS clubs, Seattle have been able to use academy players in reserve games as well, with players like Yedlin, Okoli and Washington’s 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year Aaron Kovar all seeing time.

There are daily discussions between the academy and first team coaching staff about the youth players, with head coach Sigi Schmid able to draw on his vast background in youth development to move the youngsters forward.

“We’re in constant communication, more so with the assistant coaches than Sigi, but he definitely weighs in and knows about our youth,” Sawatzky said.

It’s early days in Sounders youth development, but the signs are bright. Sawatzky has big plans for fully preparing youth players for the professional ranks, with a full-time Residency Program being one initiative he’d like to create some day.

“If you look at all the top clubs around the world, you have to have those kids day in and day out in that environment,” he said. “I’m confident that down the road MLS teams will do that.”

For now, Sounders academy kids get a well deserved break – but only for a few weeks. The 16s and 18s get back to work on August 22 ahead of another Development Academy season.

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.

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