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Winning culture shines through as young Sounders side earns incredible victory

To many, the Seattle Sounders leaving Texas with a point on Thursday would have been more than enough.

The Sounders were playing a midweek match, away from home, without 10 key contributors. Yes, 10. Nearly an entire starting lineup’s worth of players missing due to injuries, international call-ups or suspensions. Aside from João Paulo, Yeimar and Brad Smith, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer even opted to rest the other senior players on the team who were available.

So, out Seattle went with five teenagers in the starting lineup, the most by any team in MLS history. The Sounders started the second-youngest lineup in league history. Three of the six youngest players to ever suit up in an MLS match were on the field for Seattle.

Two of the players, 22-year-old Samuel Adeniran and 15-year-old Obed Vargas, aren’t even contracted First Team players. They, along with Juan Alvarez and Alex Villanueva, were only with the team because of MLS’ Extreme Hardship rule. They were on Thursday’s team sheet quite literally because Seattle was unable to field anyone else.

Despite all this, the Sounders never expected anything less than the full three points and left Q2 Stadium 1-0 winners in their most impressive victory of what has been an utterly astounding season.

“That was a massive team performance,” said Schmetzer. “The message to the group for the last day and a half was, ‘We didn’t come down here to play a bunch of young kids, to make it a good story.’ That was never our intention. Our intention, and the winning culture of this club, is, ‘I don’t care who we put out on the field.’

“The culture of what this club is about is about winning,” he continued. “Those young kids did a great job of demonstrating to all of you that that’s what they believe. Those kids believed they could win.”

Eighteen-year-old Danny Leyva was in unfamiliar territory as one of the more experienced players in the starting lineup, in spite of his youth. He progressed through the Sounders Academy before signing an MLS contract at 15 and was reunited with his friends and former teammates, albeit on a much bigger stage.

“There were a lot of young players on the field, and [Schmetzer] gave them all the confidence,” said Leyva. “Going into the game, we all had that mentality to go out there and win and make it a tough game for Austin. I think that showed on the field.”

Part of Schmetzer’s luxury of being able to do what he did on Thursday was the buy-in he received from the older players. Raúl Ruidíaz, who scored the match-winner with a Goal of the Year candidate as a second-half substitute, had just as much faith in his younger teammates as the coaching staff.

“Brian talked to me before the game and informed me that we were going to be starting with the boys,” said Ruidíaz. “I was fully supportive. This is a great opportunity for the young players to start. They did a great job, they played 100% during the game, they put all the effort in to achieve what we needed to achieve. The victory is an outcome of the work that they have done.”

Seattle is still first in the Supporters’ Shield standings with 32 points from 15 matches and five points clear in the West of second-place Sporting Kansas City, who comes to Lumen Field for a colossal match on Sunday (6 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Prime Video, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS). The Sounders should enter this weekend high on confidence and knowing that what they accomplished in Texas midweek is a seminal achievement for the entire club.

“It’s a great moment for the whole team and organization,” said Leyva. “It just shows that there is a pathway for the Academy players coming up to the First Team. It’s a tremendous game to play with some of my former teammates with the Academy, and especially to win away, it was a great performance for all of us.”

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