Sixteen-year-old Azriel Gonzalez signs with Seattle Sounders FC 2, becomes youngest signing in club history

Gonzalez signs with S2

Seattle Sounders FC 2 announced the signing of Academy prospect and U.S. youth national team star Azriel Gonzalez on Monday. Gonzalez, 16, impressed in his time with the Academy, as well as a few stints in USL action with S2, and is the youngest player in club history to sign a professional contract.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Gonzalez. “It’s always been my dream to sign my first professional contract. I never thought I’d sign it at the age of 16, but it comes with hard work, and I’m excited.”

For many people around the club, it was a matter of when, and not if, the young attacker would be promoted.

“It’s no surprise that Azriel signed, and I think it’s a strong indicator of where we want to take the club and develop our own,” said Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “It goes back to the notion that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

The Las Vegas, Nev., native joined the Rave Green youth system from Heat FC when he was just 13. Immediately recognizing his potential, the technical staff pushed him out of his comfort zone, often playing him up to three years above his age group.  

“Azriel has earned it, he’s been very good at every level we’ve pushed him to [and] we’ve tested him at various times,” said Nicholls. “He’s a good boy, and he’s not only a good player with good potential, but he’s also got the right character. We hope he’s able to maintain and fulfill his potential, and that this gives him an extra boost.”

Gonzalez hasn’t just passed every test. He’s developed a habit of elevating his game at every level.

“He’s a very talented, versatile player,” Sounders FC Director of Player Personnel Kurt Schmid said of Gonzalez. “He’s very technical and he’s the kind of guy that we want to push through our Academy and challenge at higher levels. And once he’s succeeded at one age group, we’ve continued to challenge him, and we want to keep doing that to push his development on.”

Despite missing a number of Academy matches this season because of USYNT call-ups and injury, he tallied 17 goals and eight assists across all competitions with the Sounders U-16s and U-18s. With the U.S. U-16s, he racked up three goals and two assists in just eight appearances. He even recorded his first professional assist in S2’s 3-0 win over LA Galaxy II on June 3, setting up Irvin Parra’s second goal of the night.

In his time in the youth system, Gonzalez has put in some impressive displays against international opponents. In the Cayman Airways Cup with the U-14s last season, Gonzalez pitched in eight goals and four assists from just five matches, several of which came against U-15 squads. And last summer at the Youdan Trophy in Sheffield, England, which the Sounders ultimately won, Gonzalez took home the Golden Boot with five goals from five matches, including tallies against Newcastle United and the decisive goal against FC Basel in the final. His dominant performances at the youth level earned him an invitation to participate in preseason with the First Team ahead of the 2017 MLS season.  

“Azriel is one of the top players in our Academy, so we’re very happy to sign him to S2,” said S2 Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson. “We see a bright future for him. We see him definitely as a First Team player, sooner rather than later, but he’s still 16 and we have to give him some time, give him some minutes.

“It’s an opportunity for us to expedite that process of getting him to the First Team,” Hendrickson continued, “and I think he’ll do really well.”

There’s no denying Gonzalez is a truly special talent — his soccer IQ, technical ability and goal-scoring prowess are light years ahead of most 16-year-olds — with a bright future at the club. But his signing is about more than just adding a promising player to the S2 roster: It signifies a burgeoning culture where young players will be given opportunities to prove themselves. If they take their chances, they’ll be rewarded with a contract.

“It’s also a strong message to the rest of the Academy players that this is a club where you can come develop, play, learn and become a professional,” said Nicholls. 

For many of the prospects in the Academy, especially the 2002 class that boasts five USYNT players, Gonzalez’s signing will serve as motivation for them to work hard in order to sign their own contracts.

It’s impossible to say for certain just how far Gonzalez will go. But if his time with the Academy and S2 is any indicator, he’ll continue to elevate his game with each new challenge he’s presented.

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