For the first time in club history, players from Sounders Academy will represent the United States U-17 men’s national team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
To send one player to such a prestigious event is a significant achievement for any youth system. But to send three – Homegrowns Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Academy midfielder Ethan Dobbelaere were named to the 21-player roster – signifies the rapid progress of the club’s player development initiative.
In fact, seven players from Sounders Academy have been called up to the U-17 MNT since the start of the new cycle in 2018.
“It’s a special moment for the Sounders program,” Ocampo-Chavez told the media at Starfire Sports on Friday. “We have a lot of great players in the Academy. I feel like there should have been some [more] players up there, but sadly they’re not there. It should be good for us.”
Leyva, Ocampo-Chavez and Dobbelaere are members of a new generation of youth national team players for the United States, and they’re changing perceptions of what the Stars and Stripes are capable of on the global stage.
With a wealth of professional experience throughout the roster – the Sounders trio have already combined for 2,864 minutes in the USL Championship and 495 minutes in MLS – the young Yanks hold lofty ambitions as they prepare to go toe-to-toe with the best young players in the world.
“We want to become World Champions and win the whole tournament,” added Leyva. “But we have to go into the tournament step by step. Our first step is to make it out of the group stage. And from there, go game to game and be focused on our goal, which is to win it all.”
Ocampo-Chavez, who has six goals and two assists for the Tacoma Defiance this season, believes that the club’s development pathway and willingness to test prospects in professional matches have prepared the trio for taking on storied international programs.
“In the USL, the fullbacks are fast and big,” he said. “I feel like playing in my age group in the World Cup it should be, not easier, but more positive going at players.”
Leyva, a 16-year-old box-to-box midfielder who’s impressed in four MLS starts for the Sounders, believes that the increased exposure in the pro ranks has leveled the playing field with the rest of the top national team programs.
“Obviously, you’re playing against older players [in the USL Championship], so it translates to the national team because you’re playing with players your age that are experiencing the same things,” said Leyva. “So, the speed of play and level of play doesn’t really change as much because other players are doing the same thing as you.”
All three players have done exceedingly well with Sounders Academy, picking up wins over major international academies like Everton, FC Basel, River Plate and Flamengo. According to Leyva, the club’s ability to consistently churn out elite youth players portends a bright future for both club and country.
“The Academy is doing a good job of developing players,” he said. “Every day we’re providing more players for the youth national teams. It’s just a good sign for the U.S. and its future.”
You can find the full U.S. U-17 roster and schedule here.