It’s official: 19-year-old Sota Kitahara is the latest Homegrown Player for Seattle Sounders FC. Here are five reasons to be excited about the Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance alum as he embarks on the next phase of his professional career with his hometown club.
Hailing from Edmonds, Kitahara has been in the club’s player development system for over six years. Kitahara’s dominant displays with local club Seattle United earned him an invitation into the Sounders Discovery Program. After impressing the Academy coaching staff, he was invited into the club on a full-time basis with the Sounders U-14 squad. Success at the Academy level translated into Kitahara’s first professional contract with the Tacoma Defiance on December 15, 2020.
Largely a box-to-box or defensive midfielder during his days in the Academy, Kitahara has added some positional flexibility at the professional level. His first few appearances with the Defiance in 2019 came at outside back, and he largely played right back during his loan spell with Austrian club FC Pinzgau Saalfelden in 2021.
Kitahara was a critical component of the Defiance midfield that largely dominated the competition in MLS NEXT Pro this past season.
Despite being just 19 years old, Kitahara has already amassed a wealth of professional experience. Since making his debut with the Defiance as an Academy player in 2019, he has made 61 appearances and 52 starts across the USL Championship, Austrian Regionalliga and MLS NEXT Pro.
Five years ago, most players Kitahara’s age would be playing their sophomore season of college soccer. The local kid has already racked up 4,842 minutes played across three professional leagues.
Kitahara’s influence on the game can often times go unnoticed. The game flows around him, and he’s responsible for dictating the team’s structure on both sides of the ball. But a quick look at his track record with the club shows he has helped foster a winning mentality across the club’s youth system.
Kitahara was a starter as the Sounders U-14’s defeated Everton FC in the 2017 Youdan Trophy final, and he played up an age group as the Sounders U-17’s won the USSDA National Championship the following year. Kitahara also was a starter on the U-17 team that became the first MLS side to win the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division in 2019. The Edmonds native was a key player for a Defiance side that finished third in the MLS NEXT Pro regular season league table and advanced to the Western Conference Final in the postseason.
In addition to earning call-ups with various United States Youth National Teams, Kitahara has ample experience playing against some of the top young players from around the world. He played up an age group on the Sounders U-14 team that finished third at the 2017 Manchester City Cup, defeating the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Kitahara also faced the likes of Celtic FC, FC Basel and Everton FC when the U-14’s won the Youdan Trophy later that summer. At the Generation adidas Cup, he helped lock down top attacking talents from clubs like Valencia, Flamengo and River Plate.
Ahead of the 2021 USL Championship season, Kitahara went on loan to Austrian club FC Pinzgau Saalfelden where he played under head coach Christian Ziege, a Euro 96 winner with Germany and former defender for Bayern Munich and AC Milan defender.