The Sounders U-15 and U-17 Academy teams are headed to Toyota Soccer Center in Dallas-Fort Worth this weekend as they compete in the 2023 MLS NEXT playoffs and showcase, respectively.
“It’s an opportunity to see our players against some of the best players in the country and to see them in pressure situations while having good performances,” said Sounders Academy coach Brayton Knapp.
The U-15’s will be participating in the playoffs section, where they will be exposed to a single-elimination tournament-style format.
“It's a situation where you must win every game,” said Knapp. “There’s no group stages, it's a knockout right away and so it's important for the players to learn to value every moment, every action and see the importance of playing in high pressure games.”
As the second-ranked team behind LAFC in the West Division, the U-15’s qualified through their success in league play. The team will face Orlando City on Saturday, June 17 at 10 a.m. PT and go up against winners of the Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution matchup in the following round.
“[We are going] to take it one game at a time…our goal is to be proactive in the matches, and to find ways to win to make the game difficult for the opponent,” said Knapp. “I think if we're able to do that, then we have a good chance in any game.”
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On the flip side, the U-17’s will be competing in the showcase of MLS NEXT Cup where the team is scheduled to play against Indiana Fire Academy on Sunday at 6 a.m. PT, New York Soccer Club on Monday at 5 p.m. PT and Minnesota United on Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. PT.
While the U-17’s weren’t able to make the playoffs this year, their participation in the showcase presents a valuable developmental opportunity, according to Knapp.
“It's still an opportunity for some of the players to prepare themselves for next year as they may become the older U-17 team,” added Knapp. “It also gives players a chance to be seen by colleges as a potential backup, if they aren't going to be on a pro player pathway, along with national team scouts at every match.”
Whether it be in the playoffs or in the showcase section of the MLS NEXT Cup, it’ll be up to the comradery shared between the players that’ll determine their outcomes of the tournament.
Knapp said it perfectly.
“It's going to take belief in each other, willingness to work for each other and sacrifice for each other.”