The Sounders FC Academy U-16s narrowly missed out on a spot in the semi-finals of the 2016-17 Generation adidas Cup Premier Division despite finishing the group stage unbeaten. After finishing second in the group, the Rave Green have advanced to a four-team playoff -- featuring Houston Dynamo, Chivas de Guadalajara (Mexico) and Monterrey (Mexico) -- for fifth place.
Group-play matches that end in a draw go to a penalty-kick shootout with the winner awarded two points, while the losing team receives one point. Unfortunately for the young Sounders, a 0-0 draw with New York City FC in the first match, which the east-coast club eventually won 5-4 from the spot, saw the Rave Green finish second in a group that boasted the likes of Pumas UNAM (Mexico) and Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica).
“In the past we’ve come here and struggled against international opponents, so I’ve been really encouraged by the fact that we’ve beaten two of them and performed well in all three matches.”
The opening match against City featured two resolute defenses duking it out to stifle any chances going forward. When the young Sounders did manage to carve out a few clear-cut chances they were denied by the post on two occasions, while the goalkeeper produced three match-winning saves in 1v1 situations.
After a disappointing result in penalties against City, the young Sounders rebounded with a massive victory over Pumas UNAM -- a Liga MX club with a rich history of developing elite professional players. Seattle jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the fifth minute when U.S. Youth National Team midfielder Josh Atencio (U-14) prodded a shot past the keeper off an assist from Azriel Gonzalez. The Rave Green doubled their lead ten minutes later as an excellent bit of individual action from Dylan Teves saw him win back possession in the final third and put the ball on a plate for Gonzalez to hammer home.
Teves was at the heart of another positive result in the next match, scoring the decisive goal in a 2-0 victory over Costa Rican side Saprissa. The center back pairing of Roger Pulido and Khai Brisco combined well to snuff out any dangerous chances and maintain the clean sheet.
“We only conceded one goal in three games against elite opposition, and that was a PK against Pumas,” said Nicholls. “I think that shows our defense was really good, especially Pulido and our goalkeeper Sam Fowler.”
Since GA Cup serves as a showcase for the future stars of MLS, the Academy staff opted to bring along plenty of promising prospects from the younger Academy sides to the tournament. One such talent, holding midfielder Sota Kitahara (U-13), came on for the last ten minutes of the match against Pumas and helped to secure the win by shielding the back-line and completing 100 percent of his passes. And with the Sounders missing out on the semi-finals, Kitahara could start the upcoming matches against elite-international competition. Similarly, an exciting, goal-scoring midfielder brought up from the U-14s, Ray Serrano, could see significant playing time in the next two games.
The young Sounders will play their next match on Thursday, April 13, against Mexican-powerhouse Chivas de Guadalajara (9:15 a.m. PT). The match will be streamed on MLSsoccer.com and the Sounders Facebook page.