The Seattle Sounders First Team is consistently successful when it comes to competing in Major League Soccer. What fans might not realize, though, is all the work behind the scenes that club puts into scouting and developing young, local players in order to maintain this status.
Since 2014, the Sounders have utilized the Academy Futures Program, formerly the Sounders Discovery Program, to bring in players between the ages of 12 and 14, in hopes of finding future talent for the club’s Academy teams, and eventually, Tacoma Defiance and the First Team.
“Two nights a week, these players that are on local club teams come in and train with the Sounders Academy in terms of their own age group, they train at Starfire with Sounders Academy coaches, and then they'll still train with their own team during the week,” said Sounders Scouting Director Sean Henderson. “They'll still play in games with their own local teams and then maybe a couple times a year they'll go to an event as a Sounders team.”
Rather than a typical two-day tryout, the Futures Program is a seven-to-eight-week cycle that occurs four times a year, allowing the Sounders staff to evaluate these players on multiple levels in order to confidently determine if they’d be the right fit for the club long term.
“[Bringing in] the U-12’s and the U-13’s is more about just seeing the bigger density of players and introducing them to how we train, and how we play,” said VP of Player Development Henry Brauner. “But once they get to that U-14 Futures Program level, it's a little bit more specific now in terms of which core group of players we keep to make our final decisions and build for next year's U-15 [Academy] team.”
Technical and physical attributes play a vital role in the decision-making process, but it’s a player’s traits off the pitch and in high-pressure moments that ultimately dictate their future at the Sounders.
Whether it be throughout the Futures Program or the initial scouting process, the Sounders thoroughly examine a player’s personality characteristics above all else.
“It always starts with the non-negotiables on the character and mentally tough and competitive side,” said Henderson. “We look for people that are great teammates, that are coachable, open to learning, and that are highly competitive.”
The development and scouting pipeline within the organization go hand-in-hand. This is true when figuring out what specific positions to bring on for future planning purposes or “finding young players to come into the development system that would eventually be a great First Team player,” according to Henderson.
Seeking out new talent is generally done in Homegrown territories Washington and Hawaii, but exploring outside the market is something the club utilizes as well in order to grab hold of talented players who don’t necessarily have access to an MLS team in their residing state.
“I would say 85 to 90 percent of our Academy teams are what you would consider ‘Homegrown,’ but we also make sure that we're trying to recruit those high potential players outside of our region, otherwise, we end up playing against them at the First Team level,” said Brauner.
The way the organization approaches development and initial scouting of future talent is nothing shy of effective with players like Reed Baker-Whiting, Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva being among the few of many prime examples to travel the full pathway from Futures Program to Academy and up to the Defiance and First Team.
It’s a daunting task for the Sounders staff to find the right prospects for the organization, but it’s worth it when the outcome results in a positive environment for players to grow into their potential.
“We feel that if our best players can also be our best people then we have something unique,” said Brauner. “That's very important to us that they have both and that’s how we've always looked at it.”
And the Sounders staff do not plan on changing that approach anytime soon.
“Every team has their profile of the player that they want to develop based on the needs of the club and I think we've done a good job of being able to vertically integrate very well with our First Team.”