During his first media session as new Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer, Garth Lagerwey described a three-to-five-year strategic plan. This blueprint will allow the technical staff to outline an organizational depth chart for the club’s First Team, USL PRO team and Youth Academy. Lagerwey noted that due to the addition of Sounders FC 2, the Academy becomes even more vital as the club looks to take the next step.
As Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls put it, “We’re nowhere near where we need to be. We don’t mind saying that, because we’re ambitious.”
Nicholls recently made an addition to the Academy staff that he believes will help the club reach those long-term goals. He hired Othoniel “Junior” Gonzalez, an experienced coach with a proven track record in finding and developing young players. Gonzalez will be in charge of coaching the U-14 team and scouting for the Academy. Along with the rest of the Academy staff, Gonzalez will be present at local youth matches throughout the year.
Gonzalez, 37, has a history with multiple members of the Sounders FC technical staff: He played for Head Coach Sigi Schmid at UCLA, and new Assistant Coach Ante Razov was one of his teammates. After his playing career, Gonzalez coached at the University of California, Riverside, before becoming an assistant with former MLS club Chivas USA. He is also currently the U-15 National Team Assistant Coach.
Nicholls received hundreds of applications for the position. He was trying to find someone who understands MLS, has ties to the National Team and is an expert in identifying and developing talent. Gonzalez checked all of those boxes.
“I’m very excited to be here,” Gonzalez said. “If I can just do a small part in improving the club, I’ll be happy. We’re all working toward the same goal.”
Gonzalez was just 25 when he was hired as Head Coach at UCR in 2004. He led the Highlanders to new heights, earning Big West Coach of the Year honors in 2011 before guiding UCR to a top-20 national ranking and the best season in program history in 2012.
During his short stint with Chivas USA, Gonzalez spent time working with the club’s Academy teams. He was also a US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program coach from 2002-2011. As an ODP coach, Gonzalez took his teams to tournaments around the world, which allowed him to see the youth systems of FC Bayern Munich and other top clubs.
Nicholls believes Gonzalez has the experience and knowledge to take the Sounders FC Academy to the next level.
“He’s going to help us tremendously in building an identity, a continued identity,” Nicholls said. “We feel that there’s a lot of good players in Washington, and there’s a lot of wonderful clubs. We can’t afford to miss a player. If we can get them younger, we feel we can provide a great environment for them, a promising environment where they can really excel.”
Many of Gonzalez’s players at UCR went on to play professional soccer, including Sounders FC midfielder Aaron Long. Gonzalez says Long was the first person he notified after he was hired for this new gig. The two have known each other since Long was nine, and together they led the Highlanders to their two most successful seasons.
Gonzalez can see the potential of Sounders FC. The club is coming off its best season yet, but with S2 set to begin play in March, there is room for the organization to grow. Gonzalez hopes to enhance an Academy that has already sent several players to the First Team level.
“It gives you motivation and inspiration,” Gonzalez said. “It creates a mentality with your younger teams to devote themselves to the game and develop in this environment. I think there’s going to be a great amount of players here in Seattle who are going to thrive. It’s going to be fun to be part of the process.”