As the Seattle Sounders prepare for the 2017 MLS season, there is a distinct local influence in preseason camp. In addition to Homegrown players Aaron Kovar, Victor Mansaray, Seyi Adekoya and Henry Wingo -- as well as new S2 signing Lorenzo Ramos -- four standouts from the Academy joined up with the reigning MLS Cup champions.
Holding midfielder Sam Rogers (U-18), winger Shandon Hopeau (U-18), striker Azriel Gonzalez (U-16) and goalkeeper Sam Fowler (U-16) were all invited to participate in the first week of preseason. Since the goal of the Academy is to produce future stars for the first team, the opportunity to train with established professionals and impress the first team coaching staff is a vital experience.
When asked if any of the new signings or trialists stood had made a good first impression, head coach Brian Schmetzer immediately singled out the youth team players for praise.
“I’ll say this, I was impressed by some of the Academy kids we had,” he said. “The whole group was okay for the first day, but I was impressed with some the Academy kids.”
“We want to make sure the Academy and S2 are integrated a little bit better with the first team,” he continued. “So that was something that stood out.”
Over the past couple of years, the club has drastically increased its soccer programming in order to streamline player development. The implementation of S2 and Sounders Discovery Program has created a clear pipeline from the U-10 age group all the way up to the first team. With the infrastructure in place, the increased integration between the Academy, S2 and the first team will accelerate the development of the most promising prospects in the club.
The 2017 MLS preseason also provides the perfect opportunity to expose these young players to the level of play they will face in the professional game.
“We’re delighted we’ve had four players in preseason this week and they’ve all made a good impression,” said Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “To get some of our boys out there with the first team is a big boost for our Academy, and the boys have acquitted themselves quite well.”
Rogers, the captain of the U-18 squad, feels that training with internationals like Clint Dempsey, Nico Lodeiro and Roman Torres, as well as Homegrown players like Adekoya and Wingo, will prepare him for the next level.
“I think training with the first team is a good challenge and will push me further to get where I want to go,” said Rogers. “I think [training with Homegrown players] makes my goals feel more reachable, just seeing guys that were in my position [in the Academy] a few years ago now playing for the first team makes me feel like I can do it too.”
For Hopeau, a talented player with a penchant for scoring incredible goals, participating in preseason has been an informative experience.
“It’s definitely a big jump from the Academy in terms of speed of play and I’m learning a lot about what it takes to be a professional every day I’m out here,” said Hopeau. “[Training with head coach Brian Schmetzer] has been a big deal for me because one day I want to be a part of the first team, so I’m really happy he’s given me the opportunity to come out here.”
Some of the young Sounders have made quite the impression on first team players as well. Adekoya, who graduated from the Academy in 2014, is excited about the talent coming through the youth ranks.
“It’s been awesome to see what the Academy has and to be able to keep an eye on them,” said Adekoya. “I’ve been really impressed with all of the Academy kids and how composed they are playing with guys that are so much older than them, and they’ve been doing really well.”
From DeAndre Yedlin to Jordan Morris, the club has a rich history of signing products of the youth system to the first team. Increased integration of the Academy, S2 and the first team will help accelerate the development of the most promising young Sounders in the pipeline and help them prepare for their ultimate goal of one day becoming Homegrown players.