The Sounders Discovery Program U-14s are in Orlando, Florida, this week for the International Champions Cup Futures Tournament. Taking place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the youngest members of the Sounders youth system will play against some of the best academy sides from around the United States and Europe.
Since 2012, the ICC has held a friendly tournament in the United States every summer, comprised of elite European club sides in their preseason and a select few MLS clubs. This year, the ICC is fielding a concurrent youth tournament, with eight MLS academies, eight state association all-star teams, and eight European youth teams all vying for the title.
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“We’re looking forward to playing against some of the most prestigious clubs in the world,” said Head Coach Dan Lock. “We want to see how our players match up against Europe’s best and see what they can do. It can only serve to further put the Sounders on the map, giving our Academy and club more international exposure.”
For Sounders Academy staff, exposing talented prospects to world-class competition at a young age is critical to professional development, as it takes players out of their comfort zone and forces them to find creative solutions while playing against the best young players around the world.
“We took the 2005s to the Truce Tournament in England, the 2004s to Manchester City Cup, and we’re taking the 2005s to Youdan Trophy in a couple of weeks, so we want to give these boys some great experiences,” said Lock. “It’s just about giving young players as much experience as possible, so that when they get to the First Team level or with S2, they’re prepared for it.”
The young Sounders’ opponents in the group stage will provide a stern test, as they’ll face Liverpool FC, the Virginia All-Stars and Celtic FC.
If they win the group, the tournament final will be televised on ESPN, with the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea FC, Arsenal FC, Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid being the likely opponents.
Despite not becoming a full-time Sounders Academy team until August -- when they’ll graduate into the U-15s -- the 2004 class boasts plenty of experience against top competition. Back in May, this same squad enrolled in the Manchester City Cup, where Seattle earned marquee wins over Real Salt Lake, Club Tijuana and LAFC. In the interim, they garnered an impressive 4-1 win over their Cascadia rivals, Vancouver Whitecaps.
Many of the players also competed in the Youdan Trophy last summer, where they defeated Manchester United 5-0 as they finished in fourth place. According to the coaching staff, the depth and quality in this 2004 group is a continuation of the positive trend of highly technical and tactically astute players filtering into the U-15 squad.
Moreover, they’ll be bolstered the by the additions of U.S. Youth National Team prospects Austin Brummett, Oscar Rincon and Juan Alvarez, as well as Connor Tollan and Angel Martinez (2005) from the U-15 squad.
“We’re bringing a very young squad with three players from the 2005 birth year, which is something very similar to what we’ve done with the [USSDA champion] U-17s,” said Lock. “We want to promote these young players because we believe they’re good enough. But we’ll also have a good balance of guys who are on the national team, guys who’ve been in SDP for the last two years, and guys who’ve been playing up on the U-15s for a year.”
Ultimately, Sounders Academy exists so it can produce players for the First Team. With the youngest members of the youth system taking on the best players from the United States and Europe, it will aid in the development of elite players that will one day play in front of boisterous crowds at CenturyLink Field.
“The more experience you give the kids, they get better at controlling all of the things within their control,” said Lock. “They also get used to adversity because they’ve had to handle different situations. It helps as we progress through the year because they can just focus on playing.”
After falling behind 1-0 to in the opening match against Liverpool FC, the Sounders 2004s stormed back to secure a 3-1 victory.
The full schedule and links for live-streaming the matches can be found here.