The final whistle on Seattle’s 3-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday in their reserve league match at Starfire signaled the end of their second season in the MLS Reserve League with the Sounders reserves posting a 4-5-1 record.
“It was kind of up-and-down. But what happens when you are a team involved in CONCACAF, you have the regular MLS season and you go to the finals of the Open Cup, it kind of takes away from the players that you have available,” said Sounders FC assistant coach and reserve team head coach Ezra Hendrickson.
One year removed from topping the Western Division of the Reserve League at 8-1-1, Seattle struggled to find consistency in the 2012 Reserve League season.
The season got off to an ominous start when the Sounders gave up a stoppage time equalizer in the opener in a road match against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. In their third match, they allowed another 90th minute goal in a 1-0 road loss to the LA Galaxy. Winless through their first three matches at 0-2-1, they finally earned their first victory in their fourth match with a 4-3 victory over Chivas USA on the heels of two goals from Sammy Ochoa, who finished the season with a team-high three goals.
The games provided a proving ground for many of Seattle’s young players and an opportunity for the more veteran players to stay in rhythm when they weren’t getting first team minutes. But perhaps most noticeably, it was a chance for the Sounders to ease back players from injuries.
The greatest example was in Steve Zakuani. The midfielder made his first appearance of any kind since suffering a career-threatening broken leg on April 22, 2011, in Seattle’s fourth Reserve League match, a 2-1 loss at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC on June 1. After playing 45 minutes in that match, he logged 90 minutes in a 3-0 defeat to San Jose on August 12. Finally, on August 19, he netted two goals in a 3-2 win over the LA Galaxy at Starfire, triggering a series of four straight starts in league play for the player who was the top overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft.
David Estrada saw a similar opportunity when he made appearances in Seattle’s final two matches after missing nearly three months with a broken foot, scoring in the season finale.
Another positive to come from the Reserve League calendar was the opportunity to get playing time for Sounders FC Academy players. Ten academy players saw playing time for the Sounders in reserve games this season, with three goals and two assists coming from the U18 and U16 players.
While the trial-by-fire element of putting academy players sometimes against Designated Players from other clubs may not have been the best for the reserve team’s overall record, the experience granted the players is designed to help the club succeed in the long-term.
“Here our philosophy is developing the young kids, keeping the guys who are reserve players sharp and getting the guys who are coming back from injury minutes so they can be sharp and come back again,” Hendrickson said. “We look at it not as a win-loss situation, but more, ‘Are we making our first team stronger?’ The whole thing revolves around making the first team as strong as possible.”
Finally, the club was able to raise $9,781.59 for their five charity partners through donations collected at their five home matches. Those funds will go to America Scores Seattle, Boys & Girls Clubs, Special Olympics Washington, Washington Global Health Alliance and Washington Youth Soccer.