A trio of Sounders Academy prospects earned call-ups to the final United States boys U-14 national team camp of 2017. This was the fourth camp invite for midfielder Sota Kitahara, and the first for a pair of players new to the Rave Green youth system, midfielder Daniel Leyva and defender Nico Rei McMillan.
U.S. U-14 Head Coach Clint Peay named a 48-player roster for the Nov. 11-18 camp, which took place at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
All three players came through the Sounders Discovery Program, which invites the best local, and in some cases national, players between the ages of 11-13 to train with Sounders Academy coaches twice a week and use the Academy curriculum. First launched in late 2014, this initiative enables the Academy staff to evaluate the best players in the region on a regular basis, thus ensuring more accurate scouting and player identification, all while accelerating the development of elite prospects and reducing the learning curve for those invited to join the Academy full time.
“Each of our players that were called in absolutely deserve the recognition,” said Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “The U-15 age at our club is the first full-time USSDA age group, so to have three players called in for what is effectively a new team, is a testament to the quality that we have in the program.
“These call-ups are a testament to the fact that our programming — SDP, Youth Club Partnerships, scouting, etc. — allows us to make more informed decisions,” he added. “It also means that we can be selective in the players that we identify who have long-term future potential.”
Kitahara, a defensive midfielder who can also play in a box-to-box role, joined the Rave Green from youth club partner Seattle United. After impressing in SDP, he was moved up to last year’s U-14 squad before being promoted once again to the U-16s. The Seattle native played a pivotal role in last year’s run to the USSDA playoff quarterfinals. Kitahara has spent most of the 2017-18 USSDA season as a starter for the Sounders U-17 squad. He also helped the young Sounders repeat as Youdan Trophy champions over the summer.
Center back McMillan signed with the Sounders this season from another youth club partner, Pac NW. The young defender first caught the eye of the USSF staff in a preseason friendly against the U.S. U-15s, which the Sounders U-15s, consisting of a medley of players from the 2003-05 age groups, won 5-2. Despite being one of the youngest players, he was arguably the best defender on the pitch, drawing immediate praise from one of the USYNT assistant coaches.
Leyva is a No. 10 capable of playing in any of the midfield positions and signed with the Sounders from Nevada youth club Heat FC, the same program that produced Sounders FC 2 midfielder Azriel Gonzalez. Across 13 appearances with the Academy this season, including six matches for the U-17s, the 14-year-old playmaker has tallied six goals and six assists.
The full roster and programming for the camp can be found here.