There are many ways to win a soccer match.
And, as the Sounders FC U18 and U16 teams proved, there are many ways to win a division, as well.
While both teams dominated the Northwest Division of the US Soccer Development Academy, they did it in very different fashions.
This week, that work culminates in the USSDA National Championships in Frisco, Texas. The winners of each of the eight pots for four teams will advance to the finals in Milwaukee in July.
The U16 team was a hard-working group that found their strength in their unity. They went 8-2-2 to win the division and 18-3-4, bulldozing their opponents 60-28.
Jesse Klug and Ike Crook paced the balanced team with 11 and 10 goals, respectively, but they also got eight goals from Austin Sweeney and five each from Jordan Schweitzer and defender Ian Lange.
The turning point in the season came November 20 in a 4-0 loss to Crossfire – their nearby rivals. They didn’t lose again until June 11, going 12-0-4 over their next 16 matches to solidify their spot atop the Northwest Division.
“Our coaching staff does an excellent job of preparing them. It’s a group of kids that have been playing together at some level for a long time. What they really needed was a mentality adjustment,” Sounders FC youth development director Darren Sawatzky said. “I’m happy with where we are, but there’s still one more push to go.”
The U18 side was chock full of star players who came together to go 9-2-1 to win the division and 16-5-4 overall in USSDA action. While Sean Okoli started off the season strong and garnered much of the attention on his way to an 11-goal season, it was Darwin Jones who finished with a team-high 13 goals. They weren’t the only ones to make their impact in the goals column though. Jamael Cox (6), Troy Peterson (5), Drew White and Glenn Paden (4 each) also contributed greatly in that category.
The team also finished with 11 shutouts in 25 matches, with goalkeeper Ryan Hermann receiving the majority of those starts.
“It’s rare that you have an opportunity to play for a national championship,”said Sawatzky. “This is an opportunity to put the dot at the end of the sentence of a long youth career before they move on.”
In addition to their stellar on-field performance, though, the U18s have also earned accolades off the field.
Every player on the team who is moving on will be attending college next year and every player who isn’t moving on will stay with the Academy for one more year.
“It’s paramount to the club and the program that we run,” Sawatzky said. “The majority of the kids that play youth soccer won’t be pro soccer players. So we have a bigger job. We want to make sure that when the kids go out there and say they are part of the Sounders FC Academy that they are good kids and good citizens. We are extremely proud that all of those kids are going on to college.”
First things first, though, as the Sounders Academies will play beginning Friday at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, in the USSDA Playoffs. Both sides will play three games, with the top team in each group advancing to the tournament finals July 9-16 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.