The U-16 Sounders Academy team will travel to Los Angeles this weekend in order to participate in the second ground of group stage matches in the MLS Generation adidas Cup. After a couple of exciting performances against the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake in the first round, the Academy staff is understandably excited for qualifying to resume.
For the Sounders U-16s, this second round of qualifying could not be coming at a better time. The group will head to Los Angeles in fine form, having won three games on the bounce and scoring a combined 14 goals in the process. In addition to stringing together a number of consistent team performances, several younger players have broken into the team with mature and composed performances.
One of the best aspects of the Generation adidas Cup is the unique format of the tournament. The U-16 Academy team of every single Major League Soccer team is broken up into three divisions: West, Midwest and East. After the group stages, which take place over two weekends in November and February, teams will either qualify for the Championship or Premier Division titles.
The top two finishers in each of the three regional groups will move on to the Championship Division. In this section, three groups of four teams are composed of two MLS Academy sides and two international youth Academy teams. In fact, the 2014-15 Championship title game featured the academies of River Plate of Argentina and Eintracht Frankfurt of the German Bundesliga.
The remaining MLS Academy teams progress to the Premier Division. Here, the three groups are composed of three MLS Academies and one top youth international side. For example, the Sounders’ group from last year’s tournament featured academy squads from the New York Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo and Brazilian first division team Recife.
While international participants for this year’s edition of the Generation Adidas Cup have not yet been named, teams from world-renowned youth systems such as Barcelona’s La Masia and Real Madrid’s La Fabrica have been invited.
Since the group stages are comprised solely of Major League Soccer academies, this event is first and foremost a showcase. For each club participating in the tournament, the primary objective is two-fold: to observe how potential future first team players perform on the biggest stage and to showcase the organizations’ commitment to improving player development.
Seattle Sounders FC has had immense success fulfilling both mandates in the past. After turning a lot of heads with stellar individual displays in the first round, the midfield trio of Kei Tomazawa, Sam Rogers and Stirling Russel all earned invites to the U-18 U.S Youth National Team camp in January. Russel, a right winger, played particularly well in the first round, notching two goals and an additional two assists in just three matches. Benjamin Huynh’s impressive two-way performances in Denver led to the young right back joining the U-17 National Team residency program in Florida.
With regards to the second mandate, the high-octane attacking soccer the Rave Green played in the first round of qualifying perfectly demonstrated some of the more nuanced philosophies of the Sounders FC Academy. A number of the goals came from building attacks from the back, unbalancing the opposition with effective possession, as well as players taking on defenders and getting numbers into the box. The mere fact that they scored seven goals in three games, while only playing 70 minute matches, clearly illustrates the offensive firepower currently on show in the U-16 Academy team.
Seattle will square off against the San Jose Earthquakes in their first match of the second round of the group stage before taking on the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake.
The Sounders will be full of confidence going into their match against the Earthquakes. According to U-16 head coach Sean Henderson, the group has made leaps and bounds since the beginning of preseason. Considering their recent form and the fact that Seattle defeated San Jose by a score of 3-1 back in November, the Rave Green will hope to start off the weekend with a big result.
Since the Generation adidas Cup has served as a platform for Sounders Academy players launching themselves on to the national stage, the same could happen this weekend with some of the squad’s younger players. Striker Dylan Teves and midfielder Cam Martin have both moved up from the U-15s without skipping a beat. With four members of the squad currently involved in the U.S. Youth National Team setup, impressive performances from other Sounders U-16 players could lead to future call-ups.