Homegrown Player Josh Atencio had just 11 MLS minutes to his name heading into this season.
Almost at the halfway point of the 2021 campaign, and the 19-year-old central midfielder has already amassed nine appearances, including six starts, for a Sounders FC side that sits atop the Western Conference standings and is firmly in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.
Born and raised in Bellevue, Wash., Atencio’s breakout this season has been years in the making. The versatile midfielder, who has also appeared at center back in his last two matches, joined the club’s Academy back in 2016 before signing with Tacoma Defiance in 2019. His success at the youth level, which includes winning the 2017-18 USSDA National Championship and 2019 Generation adidas Cup Champions Division, is translating onto the pitch in MLS with the First Team.
“It's a combination of guys that are willing to step up when they're given the opportunity and just the winning mentality that the club has had for so long now,” Atencio told Soccer America’s Brian Sciaretta. “When you're going through the Academy, they teach the kids that you have you have to win every game that you step into, every time you have an opportunity and a game and practice, anything -- you're trying to win as much as possible. That mentality starts in us when we're young and it definitely translates up through every factor in the club. Every guy in that locker room wants to win every single game. It shows in the results.”
A lifelong Sounders fan, Atencio has loved playing for his hometown club in front of his friends and family this year. He also noted that the club’s comprehensive development pathway – which starts at the U-12 level with the Sounders Discovery Program and progresses up through the Academy, Tacoma Defiance and First Team – helps reduce the learning curve for young players breaking into MLS.
“It's been great for me, growing up in Seattle and I get to play in front of a packed stadium now with a bunch of my peers and family watching,” said Atencio. “We have a great fan base and it's been a great experience to be able to play in front of them.”
“I think the pathway is dialed in and honestly, the transition from the academy to the Defiance to the first team to being a contributor on the first team is about as good as possible and prepares the players about as best as they could possibly be prepared to help the team win games. Back to the winning mentality and everything, everything from the top down in the club is super similar. We're taught similar things that we're taught in First Team training. We're taught those things from when we're 14 years old. We have a lot of time and opportunities to use what we've learned at different levels.”
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