After securing their place as the best Academy side in the country, the Sounders U-17s are ready to take on the rest of the world, with the squad heading to Japan this week to compete in the Toyama World International Challenge Youth Tournament.
Since the tournament is a U-18 competition, the Sounders roster is an amalgam of the three full-time Academy sides, with players representing the U-15s, U-17s and U-19s all making the trip. While the core of the squad is made up of the recently crowned USSDA Championship team, three players from the U-19s – winger Gabe Threadgold, defender Khai Brisco and goalkeeper Sam Fowler – will link up with U-15 standouts Danny Leyva and Sota Kitahara.
Defender Khai Brisco takes on a Silicon Valley defender during the USSDA 2017-2018 season / Quinn Width
“We’re really excited about the trip,” said U-17 Head Coach Chris Little. “It’s an opportunity for us to expose the players to new cultures, new styles of soccer, and to represent the club at an international event.”
While almost every player on the squad has competed against international competition at events like Youdan Trophy, Generation adidas Cup, Manchester City Cup or tournaments with U.S. Youth National teams, this is the first trip to Asia in the Academy’s history. Possessing a wealth of experience against English and Mexican sides, the Toyama World International Challenge Youth Tournament will expose the young Sounders to new styles of play, largely influenced by the developmental philosophies of American technical skills guru, Tom Byer.
Competing for the first time together, the tournament will provide a stern test for U-18s, who must build chemistry and adapt to complex tactical schemes on the fly, which is an intentional choice for an Academy that focuses on developing intelligent, autonomous, problem-solving soccer players. And while the players may not be intimately familiar with each other on the pitch, the Academy employs a unified game model across all age groups, reducing the learning curve for this hybrid squad.
“Our mantra in the club is: No teams but the First Team,” said Little. “All our Academy teams share a common DNA, a common identity, and a common style. They know how we play, the different phases of the game, so it’s actually a good opportunity for us to see how players from three different teams are able to showcase their development and stay true to our club’s values.”
Throughout the past few years, Sounders Academy sides have bolstered the youth system’s reputation on the global stage as they’ve toppled the likes of Everton FC, Manchester City, Club Tijuana, Club America, and FC Basel. However, they’ve only ever squared off against one team from the Asian Federation, Matsumoto Yamaga at GA Cup. Given the club’s ambitions at the First Team level, it’s entirely likely that some of these players could one day compete at the FIFA Club World Cup, making these trips at the youth level a prudent investment toward future success.
Away from the pitch, Sounders Academy players have immersed themselves in different cultures across Central American and Europe. As an Academy that prides itself on developing good people as much as good soccer players, these once-in-a-lifetime trips are an integral component of the club’s youth programming.
“It will be a wonderful life experience for the players,” said Little. “It’s important that they take in and experience different cultures. It will be a great opportunity to face teams who approach the game with a different style than what we usually face.”
The only American team at the competition, the rest of the field is comprised of Chonburi Football Club, Sangju City FC, Toyoma Football Association, Kataller Toyoma, and JFA Technical Development Programmes.