"The standard's been set": Sounders Academy U-17's becoming GA Cup champions reflects club's culture of winning

GA Cup Sider 1 Cover Team photo

The Seattle Sounders U-17's are Generation adidas Cup champions once again after successfully defending their 2019 title with a 2-0 victory over Liga MX counterparts Tigres UANL in the championship match.

Winning that first title was a historic achievement, as the Sounders Academy became the first MLS club to ever win the prestigious youth tournament, which features international competition from top clubs all around the world.

They’ve now done it twice, this time with a whole new roster of talent after the last two iterations of the GA Cup were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For us to be able to expose the players to that after two years of not, that is a massive point of joy for all of us, is that we’re able to be back out there, we’re able to play international competition,” said Sounders Vice President of Player Development Henry Brauner.

One of the most notable aspects of this year’s victorious run was how closely the U-17's style of play mirrored that of the First Team.

"The club sets this winning mentality," Academy Director and U-17 head coach Steve Cooke said at halftime of the GA Cup Final. "It's not just me. It starts with Garth Lagerwey, Craig Waibel, Brian Schmetzer [and] the First Team staff. We want to win every time we go out there and these boys epitomize that spirit."

Brauner noted that was particularly evident on the defensive side of the ball, where the young Sounders were lights-out throughout the competition, with goalkeeper Wyatt Nelson getting tabbed with the Goalkeeper of the Tournament award and center back Stuart Hawkins garnering GA Cup MVP honors.

“I think for me some of the biggest takeaways is that we conceded one goal in the run of play in the games,” Brauner said. “That’s a massive point of emphasis for our club, how we defend and the collective mentality of the group to approach games and always make it difficult to play against us even if we’re not having our best day.”

It gives more encouragement that Seattle’s next group of Academy products can follow a similar path as the group of players that have already broken through in the First Team in recent years, a list that includes the likes of Danny Leyva, Josh Atencio, Reed Baker-Whiting and Obed Vargas.

“I think [the U-17's] all met the expectations," added Brauner. "And now for us what’s encouraging is that they’ve met this expectation at this level, winning the GA Cup, now we can start to push them a little bit more aggressively into the next level, which is Defiance and push them from there into the First Team. I guess the best way to put it is they’ve passed their first test. They’ve shown that from a benchmarking moment, they’re on par with their older peers, like a Danny Leyva, like a Josh Atencio.”

According to Brauner, winning two straight championships sets a benchmark for the future generations.

“Now, can they push the envelope even more so when they go into Defiance?” Brauner said. “Can they push even more to get into the First Team even earlier, maybe? Then we’re developing the next generation to do the same thing.

“The last two groups have won it, this is the expectation. This isn’t like maybe if we play well maybe we can win. No, you need to be in a final, you need to win. The standard’s been set.”

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