Seattle Sounders Academy looks to defend title at 2017 Youdan Trophy tournament

Sota Kitahara Sounders Academy 2016-11-14

The Seattle Sounders Academy U-12 and U-14 squads are in Sheffield, England, taking on some of the best youth teams in the world at the Youdan Trophy tournament. As the reigning champions of this event — the young Sounders took home the title, Golden Boot and Player of the Tournament awards last season — both squads hope to build upon the club’s success against the best in the world at the youth level.

The young Sounders join a field of elite European youth teams such as Manchester United and FC Basel, programs that have developed the likes of Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ivan Rakitic.

The Youdan Trophy is billed as a showcase for the “stars of the future” and entry to the competition is by invitation only. With the U-12s placed in a group alongside Manchester United (ENG), Nottingham Forest (ENG), Crystal Palace (ENG) and Maiden City (NIR), and the U-14s slated to play against Celtic (SCO), Wolverhampton Wanderers (ENG), JHR Rotterdam (NED) and Queens Park Rangers (ENG), there will likely be several players on the pitch who will go on to play in World Cups and the Champions League.

“It helps us a lot that our players have consistently played together against some really top-level competition,” said U-14 Head Coach Sean Henderson. “This group of players has played at a high level, whether playing up on our U-16s or with U.S. youth national teams, so they’ve played in big games and had some good experience leading up to this event. That’s really important for young players, it means they won’t be fazed by intimidating situations.”

International tournaments often serve as a launching pad for professional careers. S2 midfielder Azriel Gonzalez won the Youdan Trophy Golden Boot last year, scoring five goals in five matches against teams like Newcastle United and FC Basel, and signed his first professional contract less than 12 months later.

The spine of the team already possesses a wealth of experience that one would expect from professionals. Over half of the starting lineup, including Danny Robles, Ray Serrano, Ethan Dobbelaere, Sota Kitahara, Josh Atencio and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, have all consistently played up with the Sounders U-15s and U-16s, while most of them are regulars in the U.S. youth national team program.

Rather than tailoring their preparations for the opponents they’ll face, the young Sounders worked on refining their progressive tactics in order to impose their brand of attacking soccer on the pitch.

“I’m never worried about any of these players’ abilities to go out and play well,” added Henderson. “This tournament will be another opportunity to develop by playing in different situations and against tough opponents. These kids getting opportunities to train with the First Team and S2, and playing in matches with S2, has accelerated development and raised the overall level of our Academy.”

Last year’s trip to the Youdan Trophy was such a resounding success that the club has enrolled one of the Sounders Discovery Program teams, the U-12s, in the tournament as well. Through SDP, the top local soccer players train together twice a week with the Sounders Academy coaches, using the Academy training sessions and methodology, all while remaining on their club teams.

“We’re excited to return to the Youdan Trophy because it was a great experience for us last year, both on and off the pitch, and we hope to enjoy a similar experience this year,” said Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “We’ve decided to bring a younger team this year which will give them a critical developmental experience at a younger age. Youdan is a great environment for kids who want to be pros, and we hope to win it again this year.”

Next season, when many of these SDP players will matriculate into the Academy, they’ll have already played against the likes of Manchester United before they’ve graduated middle school. This kind of exposure reshapes the young player’s expectations, making a professional career seem far more tangible.


Day One

  • Sounders FC (U-12) 2 vs. Maiden City Soccer (U-12) 0
  • Sounders FC (U-14) 4 vs. Sparta Rotterdam (U-14) 0
  • Sounders FC (U-14) 5 vs. Queens Park Rangers (U-14) 0

Day Two

  • Sounders FC (U-12) 1 vs. Nottingham Forest FC (U-12) 0
  • Sounders FC (U-12) 5 vs. Manchester United FC (U-12) 0
  • Sounders FC (U-14) 3 vs. Celtic FC (U-14) 0
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