The spotlight is shining increasingly brighter on the Sounders FC Academy these days. That’s just how Marc Nicholls wants it.
Last week, Sounders FC’s youth teams took to the training field to begin the 2014-2015 season with a new man at the helm as Nicholls has been promoted to the academy’s Technical Director after leading the U-14 and U-15 teams for the last 12 months. With a strong background in youth development and an eye toward growing the program in Seattle, Nicholls is focused on preparing the young players in the area to be professionals.
“The foundation has been built here and it’s still a very young club. We’re very established, but there are things to improve in the overall structure. The goal is that we have a lot more players playing up and being pushed and promoted to older ages, to be tested earlier, to be challenged earlier,” Nicholls said. “I would say that the reception to that idea has been very positive.”
Already in its early venture into youth development, Sounders FC has some banners touting the booming success of a program that started just its fifth season last week. The most attention-grabbing was DeAndre Yedlin’s meteoric rise from the Sounders FC Academy in 2011 to the international stage with his play on the U.S. National Team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, resulting in a recent transfer agreement to Tottenham Hotspur. But Yedlin hasn’t been alone.
Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar both had great success at the collegiate level before signing with Sounders FC as Homegrown players this year and both have seen first team action. Jordan Morris was an All Pac-12 selection as a freshman at Stanford and has earned a call-up to the U.S. U-23s. This week, current academy standout Victor Mansaray is in Czech Republic with the U.S. U-18 National Team.
While those players are just a few of the success stories to come from the Sounders FC Academy thus far, the club isn’t content or complacent, and that is where Nicholls comes in.
“Given the young history of our academy, we’re extremely pleased with the results. And the pipeline is good,” Sounders FC Owner and General Manager Adrian Hanauer said. “That said, we have a ton of work to do to get better in all aspects. I’m confident that with Marc at the helm we will get better month-after-month and year-after-year.”
For a little over a year, Nicholls had been in charge of the club’s youth development at the U-14 and Pre-Academy levels, coaching the youngest of players in the Sounders FC Youth Development program.
Prior to that, he coached the PDL’s Carolina Dynamo and was the Academy Director at the North Carolina Fusion, while also scouting for the Montreal Impact in the hotbed of college talent in North Carolina. He was brought to Seattle by his predecessor, Darren Sawatzky, who was integral in getting the Youth Development program off the ground.
As the Academy has grown to include a U-14 program and has expanded its player identification methods, Nicholls’ interest and experience in youth development is a vital component to the continued progress at the youth level.
“I think over the course of the time Marc has been here, he has been really great in a lot of areas. He’s a very calming influence. He’s organized, methodical, a really good communicator, really knowledgeable about the game and really understands youth development in a really deep way,” Hanauer said. “That’s something as we get more and more into the youth development world that you need more than just soccer knowledge. You need people who understand child development.”
Nicholls has a grand vision for the Academy to continue the development so that players can more readily make the jump from the U-18 level to the first team.
“The number one goal is to get players to the first team. There are other benefits to that as well. Kids get a wonderful experience. They’re going to go to college. They’re well taken care of,” Nicholls said. “The first team is the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot that goes on beneath the surface. If we can start to instill values, the right mentality and most importantly allow the players to express creativity and become more autonomous in their own development, then I think we can do some great things.”