The teams flew to Arizona to play in a regional soccer tournament, but no amount of training on the fields could have prepared them for the surprise waiting for them in the hotel room.
Each player on the Washington Olympic Developmental Program teams had their own Sounders FC jersey to wear in the Region IV tournament in Phoenix two weeks ago.
“Right before we left, they gave us our jerseys and when we saw the Sounders logo we were shocked. It was crazy,” said Jalen Markey, a central defender for the 95 Boys team.
The only greater reaction than the excitement from the Washington kids was the looks of awe coming from their would be opponents when they arrived at the fields.
“That’s something. To look at it right now … it’s a cool thing,” said Jordan Schweitzer, a midfielder from the 94 Boys team. “And to wear it and have other people look at you and say, ‘That’s a Sounders player,’ … It’s pretty cool.”
The regional finalists from the 1994 team (1994 being an age designation for the team's birth year) and the champions from the 1995 and 1996 teams were recognized in a banquet Friday night at the Washington Youth Soccer headquarters in Federal Way, Wash., bringing to a close two weeks of excitement since the teams returned from Arizona with their new trophies in tow.
“Ever since last year when we tied SoCal we kind of knew that we were in it and we knew that we could win,” said Jacob Beardemphl. “We always believed in ourselves this year and we expected to win.”
Added Connor Adkisson, his teammat on the 95 squad, “Very memorable … the feeling is going to stay with me forever.”
The teams watched highlights from their victories and were surprised by a video message from the Sounders FC and head coach Sigi Schmid congratulating them on their success.
It was a great leap forward for Washington youth soccer, but one taken very quickly as the relationship between the youth organization and the Sounders FC has grown quickly over the last two years. Key in that was the addition of Executive Director and CEO Terry Fisher in June.
“When I first saw this job to come to Washington and the relationship that (WYSA President) Doug Andreassen had formed with the Seattle Sounders FC and with Vancouver and Portland coming into the league in the next year or so I thought it was the perfect place to be in the United States working for a soccer company,” said Fisher. “What Doug and Adrian (Hanauer) and the Sounders have created is not seen anywhere else in North America and is more represented of what is around the world in other clubs that have histories and traditions of 100 years. That top-to-bottom vertical growth sets the seeds for long-term success for the club.”
Fisher has seen a dramatic growth in the role that professional soccer has played in the youth systems since he coached the North American Soccer League's Los Angeles Aztecs from 1975-1977 until now. Much like teams were required to play an American player on their roster in the NASL, Major League Soccer is trying to keep high-demand American stars in the league.
“The fun part is to see these kids going through a training program that gives them a chance for long-term player development. Some of them may become National Team players or play for the Sounders Football Club or even somewhere else and it gives us a bigger base of kids and makes our future that much more promising,” said Fisher.
For now, the kids from the ODP teams will disperse to their club teams until next year when, for the first time in a long time, they will have the opportunity to defend their Regional championships.