Sounders Academy prospects show glimpses of the future in S2 debuts

Azriel Gonzalez August 2018

When S2 took the field on Sunday, August 19, for their Cascadia clash against Timbers 2, it was a somewhat historic moment for the USL side. Though the team lost 4-1, two of the goals conceded came from set piece mishaps, while S2 outshot, out-possessed and created more chances than their counterparts.

As a conduit between Sounders Academy and the First Team, S2’s primary mandate is to take promising prospects from the youth system, develop them in a professional environment, and help them make the jump to CenturyLink Field. This match saw the youngest-ever starting lineup for S2, with an average age of 18.4, as they took on their bitter rivals, whose starting lineup had an average age of 22.4.

Moreover, seven players in the starting XI came through Sounders Academy, including two current youth team prospects, central midfielder Peter Kingston and goalkeeper Jacob Castro, who made their S2 debuts.

“It was encouraging to see these guys play well, because we know the U-17s are good,” said S2 Assistant Coach Wade Webber. “We know that whole team is quality, and we’re starting to believe that more and more of them – Danny Robles, Alec Diaz, they’ve yet to play – can contribute, and we’re going to start tapping into that next group.”

  • READ: Toyama World Challenge demonstrates Sounders Academy's progress

The Academy has spent the last few years fine-tuning its soccer identity. With the implementation of a consistent game model, the Academy staff has been able devise crystal clear positional profiles, or key characteristics they look for in each position in order to effectively execute the game model. As a result, this unified approach across age groups helps players intimately understand their roles within the system, easing the transition from the youth system to the professional ranks.

As a result, several of the prospects on the pitch against T2 put in fantastic individual displays that belied their age.

“In general, we were pleased with the Academy players’ contributions yesterday,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “Khai Brisco was good defensively, and I thought Peter Kingston was very good, he passed the ball very well. Josh Atencio obviously made a massive impact, which was great to see.”

Kingston progresses the attack by playing a switch to Denso Ulysse, initiating a quality possession pattern

Kingston, who has operated in the Sounders double-pivot throughout his three years in the Academy, was unphased when building possession from the back. A 17-year-old making his professional debut, he slotted into S2’s system seamlessly as he helped dictate the rhythm of the match with his range of passing and willingness to switch the point of attack. In 68 minutes of action, Kingston completed 88.2% of his 42 passes, won 66.7% of his duels, and recorded one key pass.

His replacement, Josh Atencio, a 16-year-old box-to-box midfielder, compiled a dream debut in his 25-minute cameo. A top prospect for both club and country, the Washington native was composed and tidy on the ball, routinely initiating attacks with line-breaking passes from deeper positions. In the 76th minute, Atencio made a late run into Zone 14 and played a first-time through-ball to Shandon Hopeau – another Sounders Academy alum – who then cut it back for 17-year-old Azriel Gonzalez to shoot first time, only for the ball to be cleared off the line.

Of course, the marquee moment for Atencio came moments later, when he scored his first professional goal. The play kicked off with the midfielder winning back possession and re-circulating the attack.

“Josh’s performance didn’t come as a surprise to us,” said Nicholls. “Whenever we challenge him at a higher level, whether it’s training with the First Team or playing with the national team, he doesn’t seem to be phased by much. We’re constantly pushing and challenging him, and he continues to rise to the occasion. He’s a pleasure to have in the club, I can’t speak highly enough of his character, and I’m so glad that we have him as part of our Academy.”

Atencio's star-turn display against T2 earned him a start on the road against Oklahoma City Energy FC. Operating at the base of midfielder alongside Jesse Daley, the young midfielder completed 94.7% of his 38 pass attempts and recorded eight defensive recoveries.

The matchup also saw Gonzalez’s best performance since signing with S2 last season. Between duties with the Academy and U.S. Youth National Teams, the young winger hasn’t been able to train with the USL side on a consistent basis. However, since he won the USSDA U-17 national championship in July, he’s been with S2 on a daily basis, and it’s shown on the pitch with two assists in his last two starts.

On the ball, he’s demonstrated levels of creativity and flair that have produced numerous highlight reel moves, like the one below.

Gonzalez flashes his skill as he spins one defender and dribbles past two others earning a free kick

With a window between the DA seasons, the top prospects from the youth system should get extended looks with S2. The individual performances throughout the month of August indicate that these run outs will only see the young Sounders continue to accelerate their development.

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