Seattle Sounders FC announced the signing of Tacoma Defiance midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting as a Homegrown Player on Wednesday.
Baker-Whiting, 16, has long been viewed as one of the top talents coming through Sounders Academy’s revamped player development pipeline. During the 2020 MLS season, the Seattle native began training regularly with the First Team, playing alongside the likes of Nicolás Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan and Raúl Ruidíaz, on a daily basis.
“Puts a smile on my face,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “The kid has earned it, he deserves it. He was a smaller kid, and when fans first see him they will see a tall, lanky kid. He has good size. In his first game for Defiance he covered like 13 kilometers in the game, he has good range. We’ve been tracking him since we brought him into First Team training last year. He stayed with us through MLS Cup, and he’s done well enough to earn a contract.”
Baker-Whiting’s progression to the First Team represents the tip of the iceberg. Born in 2005, Baker-Whiting and his age group cohorts are the first generation of Sounders Academy players to benefit from a host of youth programming and development initiatives that have been instituted since 2015.
According to Tacoma Defiance Head Coach Wade Webber, that increased investment in developmental infrastructure, especially the Sounders Discovery Program, has played a huge role in the current wave of Academy players contending for contracts with the club.
“I think SDP [has been important],” said Webber. “These guys have been in the club since they were 11 and 12. They were schooled and trained in basic principles. You get the kids at the youngest ages and you can affect the greatest change.”
Baker-Whiting has been a particular beneficiary of this expansive programming. A member of SDP for three years prior to joining the U-15 Academy team, he has played up several age groups against world class competition like Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC, Manchester United and Liverpool FC. In 2020, he signed his first professional contract with the Tacoma Defiance, making seven appearances in the USL Championship, including three starts.
On Sunday, Baker-Whiting started for the Defiance in their 2021 season opener, a 1-1 draw on the road against LA Galaxy II. Operating as a box-to-box midfielder, he completed 73.3 percent of his passes and won all four of his attempted tackles. During a preseason scrimmage with the First Team, he supplied the assist on Seattle's lone goal in a 1-0 win over San Diego Loyal SC.
“Reed is precocious kid,” added Webber. “He comes early and stays late. He’s obsessive and he wants to improve.
“He’s a bit of a Swiss-Army Knife. You can play him as a No. 10, you could play him further up the field, you could play him at center back and he’d be just fine because he’s got that motor and drive. He’s fit, two-footed and mobile.”
Added Coach Schmetzer: “He’s a little bit of Brad [Evans]. He can run, he’s rangy, he’s good. We still have to work on his aerial ability. He will get there, he’s 6’1. He’s clean technically in the pockets, which is a bonus for me. Just a young, exciting player we’re really high on.”
Since the start of the 2021 MLS preseason, Coach Schmetzer has discussed the need for the young guys on the roster to raise their game and make meaningful contributions this year. It’s a tall order for any player joining a new team, let alone a young player signing for his hometown team.
According to Webber, Baker-Whiting possesses the mentality and work ethic to rise to the occasion.
“Every time Reed has faced an obstacle, he’s found a way to get past it,” he said. “So, I’m excited about him.”