Both the U-16 and U-18 Sounders FC Academy teams will look to translate their impressive league form into strong showings at the annual USSDA Winter Showcase on Dec. 3-7.
Each team will play three matches over the course of four days at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. This event serves as a great chance for the young Sounders to display their skills against the best Academy sides from across the country.
The timing of the Winter Showcase falls in a critical juncture for the Sounders’ youth teams. After a full preseason and three months of league play, both teams have had ample time to train and progress through the curriculum. With all of that experience under their belt, the Academy staff is hopeful that the players can apply the lessons learned on the training pitch to big-game environments. Playing against big clubs like Orlando City, Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact serves as the perfect litmus test for the players’ development.
“We’re going to play three very good teams at the showcase,” said U-18 Head Coach Dick McCormick (above). “Whenever we are going outside of our division we like to see teams that will stretch us and expose both our weaknesses and our strengths. I’m really looking forward to the different styles [Sounders U-18] will face, and a chance to see where the group stands across the nation.”
Since the U-18’s will play three vastly different teams over the span of four days, it is incredibly difficult to prepare for each opponent. Therefore, McCormick’s preparation for the showcase focuses on improving the Sounders’ style of play and mastering the curriculum.
So, just how effective has this system been so far for the Rave Green? Both the U-16 and U-18 teams are unbeaten in each of their last five league matches, and they’re both currently sitting in playoff spots. As a pipeline that produces future first-team talent, performances are much more important than results. However, during this successful stretch of league play the Sounders have begun to blend beautiful soccer with positive results.
It is for all of these reasons that the Winter Showcase provides a platform for the Sounders to display their footballing philosophy. In tournaments such as this, the team’s identity will be both tested and revealed.
Even though the sides they face will likely be more physical and athletic, their approach to each game will not change. Given their corporeal disadvantage, the Sounders will look to control the match by playing attractive soccer.
While Seattle FC’s Academy does not have a lot of experience playing against the clubs they will face at the showcase, they have enjoyed success against clubs who employ a similar strategy centered on physicality. For example, the older Academy teams’ matches against San Jose in league play served as good preparation for the USSDA sides in Florida. Both Sounders teams garnered positive results by using their superior technical ability to keep efficient possession and dictate the tempo of the game.
With the top players from across the nation participating, the Winter Showcase also provides ample scouting opportunities. In fact, U-18 outside back Nicholas Hinds, who recently spent time with the USMNT U-20 team in Germany, was scouted at this same event last year.
For both the U-16 and U-18 Sounders Academy teams, the tournament in Florida is about maintaining momentum. They’ve played well all season long, even in losses, and appear to be improving as a group every day. It has been a long journey since the beginning of preseason, and the USSDA Winter Showcase in Florida is the perfect medium to assess just how far they’ve come.