The Sounders Discovery Program 2005 team heads to Sheffield, England, this week to compete in the Youdan Trophy, an annual tournament held in honor of England’s first-ever football competition, which occurred back in 1867.
Billed as a showcase for “the stars of the future,” entry into the Youdan Trophy is by invitation only. As the two-time reigning champs – Sounders Academy won the U-16 Division in both 2016 and 2017 – the club has been invited once again to take on some of England’s most storied clubs, like Leeds United and Charlton Athletic. Competing for the event in the first time, last season’s U-14 squad finished in third place at Youdan, toppling the likes of Manchester United and Crystal Palace along the way.
“Building off the success of last year, trying to better our placement in the event, has to be our goal,” said Head Coach Brayton Knapp. “With that, though, is being true to our identity and developing a style of play that we want to see throughout the club. We want to win, but we want to win in the way that we’ve been preaching, and the style that the boys have been developed in through the SDP program.”
Azriel Gonzalez was named the player of the tournament in 2016 en route to the club's first Youdan Trophy. | Quinn Width
Since the Academy’s primary mandate is to produce players for the First Team, the technical staff feels it’s critical to expose the brightest prospects to elite competition at a young age, as it tends to accelerate development. With that in mind, the Sounders have brought a group of promising players from the Discovery Program, which invites the top local club players to train together twice per week under the tutelage of Sounders Academy coaches, to England, where they’ll square off against some of the premier youth players in Britain.
Indicating the success of the club’s expansive youth scouting infrastructure, the players on the roster hail from over seven different youth clubs.
“There’s some special players in each age group, and the more that the players are involved in SDP – for some of the 2005s, it will be their third year in the program – the better the performances we have at these events,” said Knapp. “They’ve been training together for long time and they’ve been immersed in our training methodology and style of play. There are some players we’re really excited to see against international competition.”
The Youdan Trophy has served as a launching pad for professional careers for some of the preeminent members of the Sounders youth system. In fact, both Azriel Gonzalez and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez signed their first professional contracts within one year of winning Player of the Tournament in 2016 and 2017, respectively. While the players competing in this year’s edition of Youdan Trophy are far too young to follow that same trajectory, they’ll still garner valuable experiences that could set them on the path to the First Team.
Keeping in accordance with the club’s ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ philosophy, the squad for the tournament includes three players born in 2006, hailing from Washington Premier and Three Rivers SC, who will be playing up a year.
While it will be the first international trip for a majority of the boys on the roster, they’ll be bolstered by the inclusion of eight players – Reed Baker-Whiting, Angel Martinez, Taka Sasaki, Josh Hardin, Antonio Herrera, Taka Sasaki, Juan Alvarez and Josh Arroyo – who competed in the International Champions Cup Futures Tournament with the 2004s, providing a veteran presence in the group. Moreover, six players went to Generation Adidas Cup last year, where they faced off against Malaga C.F. and other MLS sides, which makes the transition to international play much smoother.
“A lot of these players went to Youdan last year,” said Knapp. “It’s key for us that, when we go to international events, we are thinking ahead to future ones so we have players that can be leaders and have experience at the international level.”
The full schedule for the event can be found below.
- Seattle Sounders vs. Charlton Athletic (ENG)
- Seattle Sounders vs. Doncaster Rovers (ENG)
- Seattle Sounders vs. Sheffield United (ENG)