As Sounders advance in U.S. Open Cup, Academy Teams embark on playoff runs of their own

While Sounders FC's first team is playing in the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and preparing to return to MLS play against Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United next week, the club's Academy teams will be playing in some big games of their own.

The top 32 teams in the USSDA's U-18 and U-16 levels will converge on Westfield, Indiana's Grand Park Sports Complex for the national championship tournament. Both battle-tested squads go in with different resumes, but glimmering with optimism.

"We've played some very difficult games this season and we can compete with all of them," Sounders FC Academy Coach Dick McCormick said. "I think we're ok."

The U-18s clinched a playoff berth by winning the Northwest Division with a 17-4-6 record and a plus-40 goal differential. Using a balanced attack, the older Academy group got six or more goals from seven different players and had three of those crack double-digits.

The forward trio of David Olsen, Satoshi Chaffin and Adeseyi Adekoya have combined for 35 goals while Duncan McCormick serves as the midfield fulcrum, providing leadership and steady tenacity in the middle of the field.

"We have a good balance of players who can beat you on the day. That's a pretty good balance in the attack," McCormick said. "I don't know who is going to score us the goals and who is going to win us the games, but I know we will score goals and I know we will win games."

They are on a roll too, going 12-1-2 since January 1 while outscoring their opposition 50-15 in that stretch. Loaded with players that have been winning on the state and regional levels for years, the team is prepared to go on a run in the tournament, opening with Concorde Fire from Atlanta on Monday, followed by matches against the Indiana Fire Academy on Tuesday and Real Salt Lake's Arizona team on Thursday.

"We've been playing really well and we've had a good run here. We feel fresh. We feel fit and we're healthy," Coach McCormick said.

Meanwhile, the U-16s finished third in the Northwest Division, qualifying as a wild card entry into the tournament with a 13-5-9 record. While the U-18s have varied array of goalscorers, the younger group relies mostly on explosive forward Victor Mansaray, who had 18 goals in 20 matches.

"It's a very good soccer-playing team," McCormick said. "We had a lot of ties at the latter half of the season. They needed a bit of a rest and I think they've gotten that since the season has been done."

The U-16s are 6-2-7 since coming back from the winter break, but have been plagued with draws in the last month of league play, going 0-1-5 since March 30. Now with some time off to refresh, the team is geared toward a long run in the postseason.

They will face the Montreal Impact on Tuesday, followed by PA Classics from Pennsylvania on Thursday and Strikers FC from California on Friday.

"The strength is the way we can keep the ball and move the ball and play. Hopefully the warmer environment will help us as well," McCormick said. "I look at the bracket and I don't fear it one bit. I think we have one of the best teams in the country."

The winning team from each of eight groups that play in Indiana next week will advance to the Round of 8, playing a home-and-away series with another advancing team. After that, four teams will advance to the final four in a round-robin format.

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