The flights from Seattle to Dallas this week will have a decidedly Rave Green feel to them. In addition to Sounders FC visiting FC Dallas for the first of two visits this season, the club will also be bringing its U-16 and U-14 teams for separate tournaments in a bit of serendipitous timing.
The Sounders FC U-16s will be playing in Major League Soccer’s Generation adidas Cup, qualifying as one of nine MLS teams in the 12-team tournament. The U-14s will play in the Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup, giving both teams the chance to measure themselves against some of the best teams in the United States and from around the world.
“The reality is, if you look at the Development Academy the top teams come out of the MLS clubs,” said Sounders FC Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky. “It’s something different and something you cannot get playing local youth soccer.”
The U-16s will play in a group that includes the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids along with Flamengo from Brazil, bringing an international element to the group. The other international clubs that qualified for the tournament are Stoke City from England and Chivas de Guadalajara from Mexico.
Seattle enters the tournament after playing two qualifying weekends over the past few months and holds a 13-4-4 record to sit atop the Northwest Division standings. Victor Mansaray has 13 goals to lead the team, ranking him eighth in the USSDA.
“They are a possession oriented team. They’re more of a modern team, so it will be exciting to see how they do against the top teams,” Sawatzky said.
The U-14 team will play against Andromeda from Texas, Pateadores from Southern California and Necaxa from Mexico.
Playing against those top teams will be immensely beneficial to the players, but the inclusion of international clubs will also provide more opportunities for the coaching staff to see how youth development is handled in other parts of the world.
“Being exposed to different ways of developing players is great. So having Flamengo in our group and having a possibility of playing Chivas or Stoke gives you something different than what you see every day,” Sawatzky said. “The main piece is that you know you’re going to be playing against teams that are doing it right. The level of soccer will be high. When you’re developing players it’s not always about the end result. You do want to win, but it’s also about the way you get the result.”
Over the course of 10 days in Texas, the teams will play a minimum of four games and while winning isn’t the only objective, it is certainly a goal for Sounders FC’s Academy teams.
As a bonus, the teams will also go to Toyota Stadium on Saturday in what is a learning opportunity as they will watch Sounders FC meet FC Dallas in a clash of two of the top teams in the Western Conference. The Academy teams have been to CenturyLink Field on a regular basis and seen what that environment is like. They will now have a chance to visit another MLS stadium and get a taste of what it’s like for a visiting team.
“One of the things we’re getting better at is putting kids in environments that aren’t comfortable. It’s going to be very good for them to see a game in an environment that’s not CenturyLink Field. Not every MLS stadium is like that,” Sawatzky said. “Every time you’re away, you have to deal with the crowd, the weather...it’ll be good for our kids to see how the pro guys deal with it. So it will be good for their educational process.”