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Sounders FC and local colleges helping each other

With a growing number of Academy alums reaching the college ranks, local colleges are seeing the benefits of having an MLS team in the area.

Last weekend, the Sounders FC held a training game against the University of Washington.  In an effort to keep the team in rhythm during an off-week on the MLS schedule, head coach Sigi Schmid put them up against the Seattle school in a 60-minute scrimmage that the Sounders won 1-0 on a goal by Fredy Montero.

In future seasons, the faces on the other side of the ball will look much more familiar to the Sounders and their fans as the club’s Academy continues to churn players into the college ranks and the University of Washington, as well as the other local colleges like Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, Western Washington University and Gonzaga University, become more clear options for the young players who aspire to play their professional trade with the Sounders FC.

“It helps an awful lot – being able to keep an eye on those guys, seeing how they continue to grow and develop,” Schmid said after the match.

Though no Academy alums featured in the match at Starfire, Jamie Clark’s side will feature six players from the club in 2012.  Add to that three players at Seattle U, one at Seattle Pacific and four with Western and there will be a slew of players in the area who have already worn the rave green.

“Ultimately, those kids are choosing to go to college for the education,” said Sounders FC director of youth development Darren Sawatzky.  “From the Sounders standpoint, it’s great to have the guys stay local at good institutions because they get that good education and we can keep tabs on them as homegrown players.”

Additionally, five more players will play in 2012 for the Sounders FC U-23 team, coached Sawatzky.

That close relationship is one that will undoubtedly be mutually beneficial, particularly with the talent level of the academy teams.

“The Sounders produce so many great players at a young age,” said Clark, who just completed his first season as head coach of the Huskies.  “Not many 18 year olds are good enough to play first team soccer.  If that’s the case, then there has to be a stopping ground and we’re the school in the backyard.  If we can be that stepping stone, it will be great and I think we will be at the top of college soccer by doing so.”

Another benefit of playing locally is the opportunity to train with the MLS club.  When the team travels, as they will this weekend when they face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday, the reserves remain behind and are often joined by local college players in training.

Similar arrangements were made when Schmid was the head coach at UCLA.  After the MLS formed in 1996, Schmid regularly had his players working with the LA Galaxy, which gave them a clearer goal than they had before the league came to town.

“Prior to that, the goal was the national team.  When MLS came along, it opened up the doors,” Schmid said.  “Guys realized there was a future in it, so it spread the bug to more guys.”

With the local schools aspiring to accomplish what Schmid was able to do at UCLA, consistently fielding a team that would compete for the College Cup.  As the relationship between the club and the universities grows, that goal will quickly start to become a reality.

“I certainly hope we are preparing guys to be professionals and every recruit that comes in to see a Sounders game is sold,” Clark said.  “That relationship is a big reason why I thought this program was on the cusp of doing special things.”