Bridging The Gap

The Sounders FC U23 squad will provide opportunities for Academy alums to play during their college off-season while giving Seattle the chance to keep a closer eye on their progress.

The ever-evolving youth development program with the Sounders FC took another dramatic step last week when the club announced that they would incorporate a U-23 PDL team beginning in the 2012 season.

At the center of that progress is Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky and the former A-League Sounder and MLS veteran will assume head coaching duties for the PDL team when they start play in May.

“All of these pieces represent the player development pathway.  We have to figure out how to take a kid from the youngest of ages where we can get ahold of them and develop them all the way up to playing in front of 60,000 people at CenturyLink,” Sawatzky said, noting that there are also great benefits in the development of players that have been through the Academy program.  “The kids that we send off to college now have a place to come back to and we can monitor their progress to continue that piece of the development cycle.”

A Federal Way native and former coach at his alma mater, Thomas Jefferson High School, Sawatzky is no stranger to coaching.  And few would know the Academy alums that would be returning from colleges around the country to play for the U-23 side better than Sawatzky.

In his current capacity with the club, which he will maintain while coaching the U-23 team, Sawatzky has been instrumental in organizing and selecting the U-18 and U-16 Academy teams, which are currently in their second season.

“I’m a coach and it’s exciting to get an opportunity to get back on the field and lead some people to win some things for this club,” he said.

The amateur club will provide an opportunity for returning college players to play for a professionally run organization during the summer while maintaining their college eligibility.  There is also the potential for players who don’t catch on with the Sounders FC out of training camp to stay in the area with the PDL side.

“We’ll certainly know more over time as it evolves,” Sounders FC owner/general manager Adrian Hanauer said.  “The intent is to help fill one of the gaps in development which is, most importantly to us, to bring our Academy graduates who are in universities back for the summer so we can observe them and, if it makes sense, bring them in to train with the first team.”

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