While Sounders FC was out earning victories over FC Dallas and Chivas USA on the road, the Sounders FC U14 and U16 teams were having some road success of their own in Texas. Over a 10-day stretch, the U14s played in the 2014 Dr. Pepper Dallas Cup while the U16s were in the 2013-14 Generation adidas Cup, facing off with some of the top teams in the U.S. as well as some teams from abroad in an international tournament that will help both teams make productive strides while also showing that the club’s youth development program is gaining strength each year.
“We’re seeing improvement and putting those kids in that environment is very important for them to grow,” said Sounders FC Director of Youth Development Darren Sawatzky.
The U16s competed in the U17 Generation adidas Cup tournament, going unbeaten in the tournament at 2-0-3. In the Group Stage Seattle played to three draws against the New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Flamengo from Brazil. In the tournament format, Seattle went to shootouts with each team to determine places in the standings, with the winner of each shootout getting two points and the loser getting one point for a draw. With two shootout victories, Seattle finished with five points, good for third place in the group.
That put Sounders FC just out of the semifinals, but victories over the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC landed the U16s with a fifth-place finish in the prestigious tournament.
“Dick McCormick’s teams always have a lot of bite and the 16s are learning. When you put them up against teams like Flamengo and New York, when you make mistakes you’re going to get punished,” Sawatzky said. “I thought our boys responded really well with good character on the field.”
The benefits far exceed the on-the-field lessons learned playing against top-level competition though. With five matches over a seven-day stretch, it put to trial the resilience and character of the team in harsh circumstances.
“Part of taking them on a trip like that is that it tests them. They want to be pros and it teaches them what they can and can’t handle. They’ve worked really hard and gotten through it with good character,” Sawatzky said. “Now the one and two-day trips, it becomes a lot easier for them to focus.”
Meanwhile, the U14s competed in the U15 bracket of the Dallas Cup, also going unbeaten in their three matches.
Seattle opened the tournament with a 2-0 win over Necaxa from Mexico, then drew with Pateadores from San Diego and Andromeda from Texas. The 1-1 draw against Pateadores was particularly telling for Sawatzky, as that club won the national championship last year.
Coached by Marc Nichols, the budding Pre-Academy team has shown a lot of progress and has found success in just its first full season.
“Our 14s play really good soccer. Marc has done a really good job of working with them,” Sawatzky said. “At that age, it’s more about educating players than coaching them and Marc is an excellent educator. We want to play the best teams and that’s why you take them to Dallas Cup. We’ll keep measuring them against those teams and that validates the work that we’re doing.”
The Pre-Academy team operates under a different environment than most youth clubs in the same age group with tremendous commitment from the players as well as the Sounders FC organization.
“For four nights a week, every week for the majority of the year, they are training in a very structured and scientific approach to the game,” Sawatzky said. “We do certain things to teach them to play the game and then we look for benchmarks across the year and they’re reaching those benchmarks.”
Both teams have now returned to Seattle and will resume those training routines ahead of their next games, which will come this weekend against the San Jose Earthquakes and Cal Odyssey for the U16s and over Memorial Day weekend for the Pre-Academy teams.