As the Seattle Sounders prepared for its first trip to the MLS Cup Final, the young Sounders traveled to Lakewood Ranch, Fla., for the final U.S. Soccer Showcase of the year.
USSDA tournaments are extremely important for two reasons: top-quality competition and exposure to national team scouts.
Both the U-16s and U-18s each played two matches against fellow MLS Academies, as well as another game against a USSDA club. With a combined record of 3W-2D-1L, the young Sounders certainly rose to the occasion. Several prospects may have played themselves into contention for future invites to U.S. Youth National Teams. In fact, U-18 left back Jake Morris earned his first call-up to the U-20 MNT after returning from the showcase.
With so many promising players from the U-14s playing up, the Sounders U-16s is the youngest team in the nation at that age group.
“We have some very exciting and creative young players on the U-16 team,” said Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “We’re very excited about how many of them have earned national team call-ups in 2016, and we hope to get a few more after the performances in Florida.”
In the first match of the weekend, the U-18s trounced Montreal Impact 3-1 courtesy of second half goals from Habib Barry, Jackson Ragan and Alex Bradbury.
The young Sounders then squared off against a dangerous St. Louis Scott Gallagher side. After a first half brace from attacking midfielder Jamie Dimitroff, the Rave Green held on to win the match thanks to a string of key saves from goalkeeper Akili Kasim. The U-18s then finished up the weekend with a 0-0 draw against a powerful Colorado Rapids squad.
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Over the course of the showcase, the trio of midfielder Kei Tomozawa, defender Sam Rogers and goalkeeper Trey Muse stood out for dominant performances.
After opening the weekend with a scoreless draw against Chicago Fire, the U-16s made seven changes for the next match against PDA. Despite losing 3-1, the young Sounders only conceded one goal from open play and created plenty of chances going forward.
In the final match of the showcase, the U-16s faced off against Columbus Crew in a televised game. With the cameras rolling, U-16 USYNT striker Azriel Gonzalez put in the performance of the weekend with a first half brace.
Gonzalez handed the Sounders a lead just five minutes into the match with a moment of magic. The young striker collected a loose ball at the top of the box, and struck a fadeaway half-volley that flew into the bottom corner.
Just 20 minutes later, Gonzalez intercepted a pass and exchanged a quick 1-2 with U-15 National Team striker Alfonso Ocampo Chavez before cutting up his defender and slotting home. A few minutes into the second half, Gonzalez returned the favor by crossing for Ocampo Chavez to finish first time.
“We’re always happy with the quality of U.S. Soccer showcases,” remarked Nicholls. “In addition to important matches, we get to spend plenty of quality time with the players.”
One noteworthy aspect of the showcase is the exposure to the intangibles that all MLS players must face. The squads traveled across the country and played several matches in the blazing heat with short rest. Since the goal of the Academy is to produce first team players, allowing the young Sounders to experience the difficulties that come with a career in MLS helps to prepare them for a successful professional career.