Sounders FC filled two holes on its roster on Thursday with the announcement that it had signed Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli. That they became the team’s second and third Homegrown Player signings is really just an added bonus as Seattle adds to its stable of locally-produced talent.
“We’ve tried to sign guys when we felt like the positional need was there, as well. It’s important when you sign Academy kids that you have a vehicle in which they can get on the field and play,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “It’s good to have two more Academy kids join our team. Having the youth come into our team is a good thing and having Academy kids knowing that there is a pathway into the first team is a good thing.”
Kovar, 20, played two seasons at Stanford and made a great impact for the Cardinal. In 2012, he was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year after posting three goals and two assists in 15 games for Stanford, who went 9-8-1. Last year, he had two goals and six assists in 21 matches, all starts, and helped Stanford reach the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to the University of Washington in the third round.
The Cardinal reached the tournament on the shoulders of a dramatic overtime goal from Kovar to upset fifth-ranked California in the final game of the regular season. That momentum helped Stanford to wins over Loyola Marymount and Cal State Northridge in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Washington to finish the season at 10-7-4.
“Aaron is a player who played a more limited role at Stanford as a left winger. He’s got a very good left foot. He’s an excellent crosser of the ball. He’s very good on set pieces. Technically, he’s very clean. One-on-one he has that ability to create enough space to get his cross off,” Schmid said. “For us, he’s probably going to be more of a midfielder-winger, so he’s got to get himself more involved in that aspect as well.”
Kovar, a product of Garfield High School in Seattle, played two seasons with the Sounders FC Academy, netting six goals in two seasons for the U-18 team before heading off to Stanford in 2012. He also appeared for the U.S. U-18 National Team and was the 2011 Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year.
“I feel honored to be part of this club. I’ve been a fan since I was 10 years old going to USL games with my dad,” he said. “I’m just really excited to get going and meet all my teammates and get ready for the preseason.”
Okoli, who turns 21 on February 2, played three seasons for Wake Forest, earning All-ACC Freshman Team honors in 2011, Second Team All-ACC recognition as a sophomore in 2012 and was First Team All-ACC in 2013. In 61 matches, he tallied 24 goals and nine assists, with nine goals and three assists coming in his junior season when he helped Wake Forest reach the third round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Demon Deacons lost to eventual champions Notre Dame.
As a freshman, Okoli had four goals and three assists in 21 matches and exploded for a team-high 11 goals and three assists as a sophomore, continuing to climb the ladder to a professional contract with his standout junior season.
“Sean at Wake Forest has improved every year. He’s matured as a player,” Schmid said. “Athletically, he’s very good. He has good speed and technically he’s pretty good as well. He can take people on 1v1, he can stretch a defense. Those are all important things. As with all young players it’s just about consistency now at the next level.”
In his lone season with the Sounders FC Academy, the Todd Beamer High School product from Federal Way had 13 goals in 22 matches for the U-18s and also appeared for the U.S. U-18s.
“It feels great. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Okoli said. “I’m just glad all the hard work has paid off. I’ve just got to keep going.”
In addition to their time with the Sounders FC Academy and in training with the Sounders FC senior team, both Kovar and Okoli played PDL over the summer with the Sounders FC U-23s. They will open training camp with Sounders FC on January 25.