“The dream is alive,” said Sounders FC Academy defender Matt Reinikka.
The Henry Jackson High School senior was one of 12 products of the Sounders FC Academy to commit to collegiate soccer programs around the country. With three alums from the Academy now on the Sounders FC roster in DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar, they all continue to press toward the eventual goal of playing in front of 40,000 fans at CenturyLink Field.
“That’s really exciting for an Academy kid coming through. Ever since I’ve been young, I’ve been dreaming of playing professional soccer and seeing how well they’ve done makes it more doable,” said Reinikka, who is going to Davidson College in North Carolina in the fall.
Seattle’s Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky takes pride in the accomplishments of the Academy players. However, he is much more apt to discuss the individual successes of the players in the classroom and community than the on-field victories that have become a hallmark of the Sounders FC Academy.
That the players that came up through the Academy system will now be representing the club at the college level is a feather in the cap for Sawatzky.
“College serves a huge piece in the developmental pyramid in this country. To get a chance to go after a college degree and still chase the dream is huge,” he said. “Our Academy is geared towards producing pro players, but the reality is that college serves that intermediate piece and we’re proud to say that every single kid in our Academy that has wanted to go to college has been able to and we’ve gotten to be a part of it.”
Of the college commits, nine will remain on the west coast, with five of those staying in the state of Washington.
Defenders Garrett Barber and Marcus Tinsley will go to Western Washington, while goalkeeper Ben Willis and defender Fischer Gallinger are bound for Gonzaga.
Forward Henry Wingo of Shorecrest High School will play at the University of Washington, where Head Coach Jamie Clarke took the Huskies to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history in 2013. That success prompted Wingo to stay local with his college selection.
“Being competitive is what it’s all about,” Wingo said. “You want to play with the best players and be competitive and play in the best conference. I think the Pac-12 and UW have that.”
Staying on the west coast, two other forwards will be in the Pac-12, with David Olsen heading to San Diego State and Seyi Adekoya choosing UCLA, while forward Satoshi Chaffin is off to Santa Clara.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Paul Christensen, who spent time with the U.S. U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla., is looking to follow in the footsteps of U.S. National Team and Sounders FC legend Kasey Keller by opting for the University of Portland to hone his goalkeeping talents.
“Portland just felt right. It felt like home and they’ve produced so many great goalkeepers, so it was a great opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of,” Christensen said.
In addition to Reinikka, defender Justin Crichlow and midfielder Duncan McCormick also chose East Coast schools, with Crichlow going to Harvard and McCormick bound for Wake Forest.
“When you look at the schools that we’re going to, there are kids all over the country,” McCormick said. “There are people all over the country watching us play and recognizing the talent within the Academy system.”
Wake Forest has shown a propensity toward cultivating MLS talent under Head Coach Jay Vidovich, with 12 players in MLS in 2013, five selected in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and two more, Okoli included, signed as Homegrown Players.
“I’m excited to get started with my next chapter. The amount of pros that they produce is unreal,” McCormick said. “The goal is to play professional soccer with the Sounders and I thought there wasn’t a better place to go than Wake Forest.”
On Wednesday, the players had the chance to watch Sounders FC training at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, then their college choices were announced to the team by Sawatzky. It was a short ceremony, but one very symbolic to the aspiring pros, who hope to one day be suiting up with the first team.
“There’s an end-goal here,” Sawatzky said. “These kids are trying to get on the Sounders FC first team and when you see guys that travel with you to play in these games that are all of a sudden playing in front of 40,000 people and in Youth World Cups and with the U.S. National Team, there starts to become a reality that’s pretty darn cool.”
List of Seattle Sounders FC Academy Under-18 Commitments
Seyi Adekoya (Forward, Lakeside): UCLA
Garrett Barber (Defender, Mount Vernon HS): Western Washington
Satoshi Chaffin (Forward, Rogers HS): Santa Clara
Paul Christensen (Goalkeeper, Woodinville HS): Portland
Justin Crichlow (Defender, Meadowdale HS): Harvard
Fischer Gallinger (Defender, Gig Harbor HS): Gonzaga
Duncan McCormick (Midfielder, Seattle Academy) : Wake Forest
David Olsen (Forward, Thomas Jefferson HS): San Diego State
Marcus Tinsley (Defender, Todd Beamer HS): Western Washington
Matt Reinikka (Defender, Henry Jackson HS): Davidson
Ben Willis (Goalkeeper, Federal Way HS): Gonzaga
Henry Wingo (Forward, Shorecrest HS: Washington