The Sounders FC got the ball rolling with their academy program two years ago with the intent of eventually having some young local talent competing for starting spots with the first team. This weekend, the academy program took another step toward achieving that goal when they finalized their first tryout with two sessions at Qwest Field.
Director of youth development Darren Sawatzky was joined by academy head coach Dick McCormick and his staff of Billy Crook, Mark Boyes, Gary White, Gary Heale, Matt Olson, Sean Henderson, Dennis Sanchez and Erik Oman in evaluating the players while Sounders FC technical staff of Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson, Sigi Schmid, Tom Dutra, Ezra Hendrickson and Kurt Schmid looked on.
They started with week with over 50 players in both the U-16 and U-18 camps and by the end of the weekend, they had selected squads of 18-20 players that will begin competing for the Sounders FC Academy in June.
“It’s exciting because today is the culmination of two years of scouting and working with all of our different programs,” Sawatzky said. “To put together this group of guys that we are going to work to get to the Sounders FC full team is exciting.”
With all the excitement about bringing players in for the first year of the full academy program, Sawatzky and McCormick are still very patient with regards to getting players to the professional level. The current plan is to send the academy players to college, so it could still be several years before one of the players suits up for the rave green at Qwest Field.
For the players selected, they are about to embark on a whole new experience. The Sounders FC is striving for big results from their youth programs, highlighted by the academy teams. With that comes lofty expectations for the players.
“The key is to remember that it’s not a youth soccer club. It’s a pro soccer club. We’re trying to develop players into the next level so they can play for the first team,” McCormick said. “This was an important step today and we’ll only have the 18-year-old group for one year, so it’s important to get them on track and make sure that they have the best chance to be a pro player.”
In order to help make them better professionals, Sawatzky demands a professional atmosphere within the academy.
“This is different than anything they’ve ever been a part of. This is an integrity driven youth system and they have a target on their chest now. When you are in a youth club it’s different. They are with a professional club and everything they do on and off the field reflects on our team and they need to understand what that expectation is,” Sawatzky said. “This is serious business. They need to know that. In return, they get a pretty awesome organization behind them that can help them chase their dream.”
The selection process was no mere two-day tryout, though. Sawatzky and his staff have scoured the best the region has to offer since the program’s inception. The club has even garnered a great reputation before fielding its first official team, too, and has attracted players from faraway lands. Along with a pair of Liberian refugees, one player has even pledged to relocate from Alberta, Canada for the opportunity to work with the Sounders FC coaching staff in what they consider to be the most advanced academy system in the country.
“It’s an interesting mix. We have know a lot of these players for a while, but there are also players that have moved in from other countries that are special. They bring a different flare to it,” Sawatzky said. “It’s always exciting to bring the best players together to compete and train together because that is how you take them to the next level.”
The players who were selected on Sunday are not the only players who the Sounders academy coaches will be watching over the next few years, though. With over 30 players who did not make the final cut and several others throughout the state who have the dream of playing college and professional soccer, that leaves a lot of players who could wind up playing for the academy at some point.
“It’s an important step to figure out who we want in the pool, but it’s not just about picking the teams,” McCormick said. “We also keep track of the kids that didn’t make it because they are still young and there is still a lot of growth and development left in their lives that it’s important that we keep in good relationships with all of them.”
The players selected on Sunday will fulfill their obligations to their previous clubs and high schools, then join the Sounders FC academy in the summer. Major League Soccer clubs have the first opportunity to sign players who come up through their academy when the player decides to join the league.
For Sounders FC Academy rosters, click here.