Sean Okoli’s passport is gathering a lot of stamps of late.
The Sounders FC U18 forward has been to Portugal and Argentina in the past year with the US U18 National Team and this week he will add another to the list when he goes with them to Israel to face Israel, France and Germany.
Okoli learned of his most recent call-up after taking part in a November training camp in Carson, Calif. He returned to Federal Way after the camp ended and was on his way to train with the Sounders FC U18s when he got a text from US Soccer.
It was all he could do to contain the ear-to-ear grin across his face during that training session. But still, he kept the invitation to himself until he got home that night to tell his parents.
“The only way I’m going to be successful is if I work my butt off in training, so I was working hard, but I’m sure I had a smile on my face the whole time,” said Okoli, a 17-year-old senior at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way.
Head Coach Dick McCormick agreed, “We are very proud of Sean and we wish him the best of luck on his trip to Israel. He has been working very hard in training and games for the Academy.”
The games will give Okoli another opportunity to train and compete with top-caliber players in his age group. With the Sounders FC Academy, he is playing with several other players with international experience and he has also trained with the Sounders FC first team on a few occasions, picking up tips along the way from Brad Evans, Fredy Montero and Mike Fucito in particular. He also learned some lessons playing against defender Patrick Ianni, one of the tougher defenders in MLS.
“He was in with the U20s which is my goal, so I was just trying to beat him and get ready for the next level,” Okoli said of Ianni. “When they ask you to come in with the first team, you can’t even think about it. You have to say yes. And when you’re there you have to make the most of the opportunity and try and learn everything you can when you’re there. It feels like everything you’re working for – your dream – is right there.”
With the Sounders Academy, Okoli suffered his first loss of the season on Monday, but used the 1-0 loss as motivation in a 4-2 victory to close the USSDA Winter Showcase on Tuesday. All told, Okoli has seven goals and three assists to help the U18s to an 8-1-4 record.
With his experience with the US squad and his output on the field, Okoli has been looked to as a leader by his Seattle teammates.
“Ever since I started training with the U18 camp last year I’ve improved in my game and I’ve gained confidence and I know my teammates realize that. They look to me as a leader and I love having that role,” he said. “I love how much we support each other. I love playing with the Sounders. We have the best players from the state. We should be a really good team.”
With the expansion of the MLS rosters in 2011 and the inclusion of the Reserve League, the opportunities are growing for players like Okoli – top flight youth players who now have both professional and collegiate options in the United States.
“It’s mindblowing. My family and I pray every day and we really appreciate that everything is happening,” he said. “I know that I’m lucky. I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Added Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky, “The future is very exciting for these young players in Major League Soccer. There are so many great opportunities and we are glad Sean is working hard to realize his dream.”
The Sounders FC Academy is currently on a winter break but will return to the field January 16.