Seattle Sounders make academy development a priority with S2

Every Sounders FC fan remembers the moment when local youth product and current Premier League mainstay DeAndre Yedlin first etched his name into their hearts. It was the 53rd minute of his first CONCACAF Champions League tie on March 12, 2013, and the Rave Green trailed Liga MX side Tigres 2-0 on aggregate.

A Tigres defender cleared a Mauro Rosales corner kick, and the ball seemed to hang in the air for an eternity. Yedlin, who would go on to make 56 appearances for his hometown club over two seasons in MLS, took four measured strides and hit a rasping volley which rippled the back of the net.  As he wheeled around to celebrate his sweetly struck first-time shot, the elation on Yedlin’s face was evident as 50,000 of his friends, family, and former teammates cheered his name.         

While Yedlin was the first Homegrown player in Sounders history, the six subsequent signings demonstrate their commitment to youth development. With the advent of S2, which competes in the USL Western Conference, the organization has a platform for consistent and sustainable player development. With a blend of veterans, promising players and Academy standouts, S2 is the perfect conduit between the youth system and the Sounders first team.

Arguably one of the most exciting aspects of the current USL season for S2 has been the increased integration of Academy players. With S2 now 14 matches into the 2016 campaign, current members of the Sounders Academy have already combined for 29 appearances and tallied a total of 1,248 minutes. An additional eight players have made the roster, while several standouts from the U-16 side have spent time training with the second team.

“S2 is another medium for evaluating potential Homegrown guys," said  S2 assistant coach Junior Gonzalez. "The setup allows us to evaluate youth products against 25-30 year-old veteran professionals. The ability to measure up your own youth system against professionals is priceless.”

Despite currently sitting in 12th place in the Western Conference, a number of Academy players have made names for themselves with impressive performances. In fact, Gonzalez sees the early season struggles as somewhat of a positive. It has enabled the Academy staff to evaluate the how the most promising youth players compete and perform in difficult environments. So far, several potential future Homegrown signings have turned some heads while taking the next step in their development.

Due to several early season injuries, U-18 starting center-back Tobi Jnohope has already started three matches for S2. Additionally, U-18 USYNT outside back Nicholas Hinds continues to impress supporters with his blistering pace on the left side of the back four. Furthermore, striker Handwalla Bwana has showcased his dazzling footwork and skill on the ball over five appearances, and may soon push for a starting spot if his progress continues.

For Gonzalez the goal of the program is clear.

“We want to develop the youth players by comparing them to signed professionals, and to give them the experience of what it’s like to be a professional before they go to college or pro.”

The summer months will provide even more exciting times in the evolution of Seattle’s player development system. The combination of school ending and the USL season picking up will afford plenty of opportunities for Sounders Academy players to train with and suit up for S2.

U-18 holding midfielder Lorenzo Ramos’ match-winning performance against conference-leading Vancouver Whitecaps typified the exciting possibilities for increased youth team involvement. With a late injury to Jordan Schweitzer – another Sounders Homegrown player – Ramos was afforded an opportunity to start the match and showcase his impressive range of passing. In addition to shielding the back-four and helping to control the middle of the park, Ramos struck the game-winning goal with a scorching 26-yard effort.

After recently returning from injury, U-18 midfielder John Magnus registered his first start for S2 against Timbers 2. A goal and an assist from the Academy standout led the Rave Green to a 2-1 victory and their first consecutive wins of the season.

Current Sounders Academy players have now scored the match winning goals in back-to-back Cascadia rivalry wins.

Every supporter remembers the volley that launched Yedlin’s career in Seattle. Don’t miss out on the critical moments for the local players who could follow in his lightning-quick footsteps.