On Nov. 17, 2015, Seattle Sounders FC Academy announced their first official youth partnership with Seattle United. In the five months since that day, the Sounders youth system has struck similar deals with Twin City SC [Winston-Salem, North Carolina], Eastside FC, PAC NW, Central Spokane Shadow SC. and, most recently, Washington Soccer Academy (Yakima).
Each of these clubs boasts an excellent track record in player development. Therefore, working in tandem with Sounders will exponentially increase their ability to discover and develop young players. This newfound synergy will benefit Sounders, their partner clubs, and most importantly, the communities that each club serves.
Since its inception in 2010, Sounders FC Academy has repeatedly demonstrated its holistic commitment to developing local talent. Fan favorites such as DeAndre Yedlin, Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar all began their youth careers with different local clubs. Once these players were identified, the Academy staff used their knowledge and experience to help these promising prospects realize their full potential.
With an expanded network of club partnerships, Sounders FC will provide similar opportunities to a greater number of players across Washington. More importantly, though, is the potential for the Academy staff to help mold passionate, intelligent and technical soccer players at younger age groups.
Through a combination of work-shops on coaching education, site visits, assisting in training sessions and consulting in curriculum development, the Sounders staff will bring about positive change at every level of the partner clubs. For example, Academy Technical Director, Marc Nicholls, is a key member of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) national staff for educating coaches.
Additionally, the on-site visits to training sessions and matches by Academy staff members will be extremely invaluable. The ability to interact with people who have played at the highest level, like Wade Webber, Sean Henderson and Troy Perkins provides tangible goals for aspiring Sounders.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this synergetic relationship is the consulting that members of the Academy staff provide to their counterparts from partner clubs. For many of the elite clubs in the world, such as Barcelona, every age group from the first team all the way down to their youngest youth side employ a similar system. The reasoning behind this is two-fold: it helps establish a philosophical identity, while simultaneously reducing the learning curve as players move their way up the pipeline. So, not only will players at each of the partner clubs gain numerous opportunities to impress Sounders Academy staff members, but it will also ease the transition into the Academy for the most elite players.
Establishing a sustainable and efficient player development system, much like completing a jigsaw puzzle, is incredibly nuanced and comes with numerous moving parts. Over the past seven years, important pieces of the puzzle like the Academy, camp system, Sounders Discovery Program and Sounders 2 have been laid out. With so many pieces coming together, the vision for the unbounded potential for local player development becomes clearer by the day. Therefore, each soccer club that SSFC partners with will satisfy some of the remaining gaps.
According to Nicholls, the improved quality of play at every age level will lead to massive benefits for the Sounders as well.
“A significant piece [of the club partnerships program] is to implement a conduit which can help funnel more local players into these partner clubs," Nicholls said. "Then, with the increase in resources resulting from these partnerships, elite players will face more intense competition at a younger age. Then, the players who excel in that environment will be brought into the Academy, S2 and even the first team.”
For the Sounders FC Academy, these youth club partnerships will lead to a positive feedback loop in the Seattle soccer scene. Every time a player leaves a partner club to join the Academy, it serves as motivation and validation for all of his peers. Furthermore, the hands-on experience of learning under the most intelligent soccer minds in the Pacific Northwest enables each player to realize their full potential. With the establishment of such a positive discourse on community involvement, kids who grow up bleeding Rave Green will have more opportunities to interact with and learn from their heroes.