The Sounders Academy U-15 and U-17 teams are in Bradenton, Fla. this weekend in search of another championship run at the Generation adidas Cup.
“[The GA Cup] puts the players in a really competitive environment,” said U-15 Head Coach Brayton Knapp. “There's pressure playing against foreign teams and being exposed to different styles of play, hearing different languages on the field and dealing with different ways in which those teams will approach the games…It’ll be challenging for them.”
Held at the IMG Academy, the two teams will have the opportunity to compete against some of the top clubs from around the world. A total of 16 teams will advance out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds while the remaining teams move onto the showcase side of the GA Cup. While each team is guaranteed a minimum of seven games, the Sounders have their sights set on progressing to the knockout rounds toward a fourth consecutive title for the club.
“The mentality needs to be with intention to win every game and to be successful,” said U-17 Head Coach Xavi Bravo. “And then it’s what the boys do on the field…We have to be focused, concentrated and motivated to face every game with 100 percent energy.”
The Sounders' history of success in the tournament may come as a threat for opposition, but the two teams will be facing challenges of their own as they go up against top tier clubs from the get-go. The U-15’s face a difficult test right away as they go head-to-head against Arsenal FC in Game 1 while the U-17’s await a tough group laden with top MLS youth teams.
Bravo emphasized the importance of “going back to the basics,” in order to be victorious in the tournament.
“It's more about doing things that we've done in the past, kind of overseeing what we do in defense, what we do in attack and putting everybody together and get back on track,” he said. “I think we just need to analyze the games and focus on our strengths.”
A positive outcome is important, but the ultimate goal is to help these young players in their development.
“Ultimately, we want to expose these players to an environment where they have a chance to take the next step in their developmental pathway,” said Knapp. “Whether that's in performing well and maybe being a candidate to go into the [Tacoma] Defiance or maybe there's an opportunity for some of these guys to start taking a look for the First Team…it's just a really good opportunity for the players to be put out of their comfort zone and to be challenged.”