Sounders FC Academy advances to knockout stage of Generation adidas Cup

GA Cup

The Seattle Sounders Academy U16 team returned from Frisco, Texas last week after narrowly losing to Sporting Kansas City in the knockout stages of the Generation adidas Cup. After the first two rounds of qualifying in Denver and Los Angeles, the team qualified for the Premier Division of the Generation adidas Cup and were subsequently placed in a group alongside the Chicago Fire, Orlando City and Chivas de Guadalajara.

The Academy sides that Seattle faced off against demonstrated the most important aspect of the Generation adidas Cup: showcasing player development. Against Orlando and Chicago, the Rave Green had opportunities to show that the results from the USSDA Florida Winter Showcase - a pair of narrow losses - did not reflect the performances.

Meanwhile, playing against Chivas not only exposed the group to the quality of youth development in academies around the world, but it also afforded the coaching staff an opportunity to evaluate their players on the biggest stage.

“We had five games over the week, and they were all great for development” said U-16 head coach Sean Henderson. “Games against these kinds of teams are invaluable, you don’t get to face this kind of quality every week in the league. Now the kids know what the next level looks like, and they need to have these kinds experiences to get up to that level.”

With the intense, ever-present weather conditions at the Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, every match was essentially a tale of two-halves. In the first match of the weekend, the young Sounders battled against both driving winds and a physically imposing Chicago side. They went into the break down 1-0, and fell just short of battling back for a draw after the break.

Despite carving out a number of clear-cut chances in the second-half, Seattle still trailed by a goal to nil in the dying minutes, with holding midfielder Sam Rogers helping Seattle to dominate possession. Operating in the deep-lying playmaker role, the rangy ball-winner helped the Sounders control the middle of the pitch. Seattle’s slick style of play earned a penalty kick in stoppage time, but a sprawling save by the Chicago goalkeeper denied the Sounders what would have been a fair result.

The wind was a factor once again in the second match against Liga MX side Chivas de Guadalajara. Up against a very mature and technically advanced team, Seattle went into halftime down three goals. Despite the deficit, Sounders Academy battled back in the second half and took the match to their Mexican opposition. A number of the Sounders’ best attacks after the interval came via their newest member, midfielder Lucas Meeks. Stationed out wide on the left, his ability to play direct and take-on defenders posed a difficult problem for Chivas’ back line.

For the crucial match against Orlando, center back Khai Brisco moved out wide to left-back in a bid to increase Seattle’s defensive solidity. The move immediately paid dividends. Brisco’s resolute defending provided additional cover against a physically imposing opponent. The young defender’s excellent two-way effort, coupled with their dynamic and well-rounded midfield, proved instrumental in Seattle’s bid to collect all three points.

The Rave Green took on Sporting Kansas City in the knockout round. One of the youngest members of the squad, U14 striker Azriel Gonzalez, was the Man of the Match against one of MLS’ most storied youth academies. The young striker played half of the match up top, and nearly scored the game winner for Seattle.

After making an intelligent run to ghost into the box, Gonzalez settled an aerial pass off his chest, and struck a sweet side-volley in stride, but was ultimately denied the match-winner by a fingertip save from the SKC goalkeeper. Despite creating better chances from the run of play, Seattle was eventually fell 4-3 on penalties.

The group played one more match against D.C. United and Azriel Gonzalez stole the show once again. Seattle played a man down for all but five minutes of the match, as the referee awarded DC a penalty and dismissed defender Sakari Carter for his challenge in the box. After a grueling week against some of the top youth sides in North America, Seattle finished up the showcase with an impressive 3-2 victory courtesy of goals from Gonzalez, Rogers and the game-winner from striker Dylan Teves.

Since the Generation adidas Cup serves as a platform for the future stars of Major League Soccer, the addition of professional analytics has helped to boost the profile of the event. Opta, the official provider of statistics for MLS, recorded advanced metrics for each player on every team. Meanwhile, TeamXStream was used for professional video sharing and analysis for each match.

The use of Opta and TeamXStream provided the Sounders coaching staff with an additional tool on the education side of player development. Not only can the DA staff go over video of each match, but they can also back up their own interpretation and analysis with standardized metrics.

“It really was in-depth data analysis of the highest level,” said Henderson. “With that in mind GA Cup is a necessary step in their [Academy players] education and development.  Now we have a sample of extensive data to draw from for our remaining league games.”

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