Seyi Adekoya is more than just an exhilarating attacking prospect. The newest Seattle Sounders Homegrown Player incredibly intelligent, humble and driven. But above all else, he’s passionate. His devotion to soccer is matched only by his intrinsic love for his hometown of Seattle.
Born at Swedish Hospital on First Hill, Adekoya has been immersed in soccer for as long as he can remember.
“I started playing when I was around two or three, thanks to my dad who’s Nigerian,” said Adekoya. “He grew up in Nigeria playing soccer and cricket. His favorite player has always been Jay Jay Okocha. When I was a kid he would always show me videos of Okocha and say, ‘Watch this video, you need to do this move like him.’”
On top of introducing his son to the creativity and swagger of the former PSG star, two traits prominent in Seyi’s style of play, his father always encouraged him to strive to play higher levels of soccer. His dad urged him to leave the Washington Crossfire after his junior year to join the Sounders Academy.
“I remember back then Sounders Academy was the biggest deal, because everyone was so talented,” Seyi remarked about his time in the Rave Green youth system. “I was really excited and honored to be on a team with such great players.”
The team was so talented that he Adekoya began on the bench at first, but the local kid worked hard to improve his game and eventually became a key member of the squad. He finished the 2013-14 regular season with a double-digit scoring haul, helped the U-18s win the hyper-competitive USSDA Northwest Division league title and led the team to the national quarterfinal with five goals in three playoff games.
Despite all of his personal success in the Academy, Adekoya’s most influential memory from his time in the youth system came at CenturyLink Field.
“When we were in the Academy we were allowed to sit on the sidelines of the [first team] games. I remember being on the field and saying to my friend, ‘It would be sick to play here in front of all these fans.’ I thought about what it would like to score a goal, and the announcer would say ‘Seyi…’ and then all the fans scream ‘ADEKOYYYAAAA’. That would be sick.”
As a freshman on the Lakeside High School Varsity soccer team — he would go on to score 26 goals and assist 11 more in three seasons with the Lions — he played against O’Dea High School and DeAndre Yedlin, who now plies his trade with Newcastle United in the English League Championship. Three years later, he watched intently as Yedlin signed the first Homegrown contract in club history. That landmark signing made Adekoya's dream feel all the more tangible.
Adekoya signed with UCLA in large part because of its strong medical program. His father always wanted him to become a doctor, and he ventured down the pre-med track as a psychobiology major.
Meanwhile, the Bruins’ philosophy of possession-based, highly technical soccer provided him with an entirely different kind of education.
“When I first got to UCLA and went through the preseason practices I did terribly,” laughed Adekoya. “I would have guys like [Mac Hermann Trophy winner] Leo Stolz yelling at me, and I got so nervous I couldn’t even connect simple passes. But I kept working hard and believing in myself.”
Adekoya broke into the team as a freshman and recorded 20 goals, eight assists and 37 starts in three seasons with the Bruins.
He spent his first two seasons at UCLA predominantly as a central striker, often relying on his blistering pace to stretch the field and latch onto through-balls, but in the 2016 campaign he lined up as a wide attacker.
“Spending this last season on the wing I found that my game was based less on athleticism and more on combining with teammates,” said Adekoya. “I think that helped my game because I learned how to play both ways: I can be a connecting player and set people up or I can be someone who runs in-behind and scores goals.”
The move out wide helped Adekoya’s soccer IQ and technical ability improve markedly. He credits UCLA for helping him develop into a versatile attacking player.
As he reminisces on his college career, his favorite memory is scoring the game-winning goal against the University of Washington in Seattle during his freshman season. Sharing such a special moment with all of his friends, family, former teachers and coaches in the crowd reaffirmed his desire to return home after his college career.
“When I got to UCLA I realized that I really love Seattle and I missed it,” said Adekoya. “Every single second I was there I wanted to be here. I really love this city and I’m happy to be back now.”
The pathway from youth soccer to the professional game is winding and circuitous. It spans decades, and yet fleeting moments can cause it to meander in myriad directions. Adekoya’s experience on the sidelines of CenturyLink Field as an Academy player buoyed his leap to the professional ranks.
Years later, a single goal he scored in a scrimmage after his sophomore season was the moment he realized he could actually play at the next level.
During a 2016 preseason camp in California, the Sounders’ first team scrimmaged UCLA. And against his hometown club, Adekoya handed the Bruins an unexpected 1-0 lead.
“I was so excited for the game,” Adekoya said, beaming as he tells the story. “My friend slipped me through with a great pass, and I ran around Chad Marshall and I finished with my left foot. I remember I was just so excited and proud of that moment.”
“It made me realize that I was ready to do this at a higher level,” he continued. “While I loved college soccer, it was kind of a moment for me that I realized I should seriously consider playing professional soccer.”
Adekoya grew up supporting the club, and he seems to embrace the responsibility that comes with a Homegrown contract. He wants to give back to the community that gave him so much. He wants to inspire younger fans in the Seattle soccer community to chase their dreams, just as Yedlin inspired him.
Looking forward, he is eager to play for a head coach in Brian Schmetzer who understands the deep-seeded connection between the fans and the club better than anyone else. He’s also excited to play for a coach with whom he’s familiar, since he spent his breaks from school back in Seattle training with the first team and S2.
“I remember he was super passionate,” Adekoya said of his time spent training under Schmetzer. “He was intense in a good way and focused a lot on younger player development.
“He would always talk to the younger guys and say ‘If you’re serious about this [career], you’re going to be out at practice before it starts. You’re going to be getting extra touches and working on your game, because that’s what all of the older guys have already done to get where they are. That’s what you need to do if you want to get there.’”
Now that Adekoya is embarking on the professional career he first envisioned as a kid in the Academy, where does he see himself down the road? What are his long-term ambitions?
“I hope I’m still playing soccer in ten years, whether in Seattle or in Europe,” he said. “Just enjoying the sport that’s become such a big part of my life."
Adekoya paused for a second as he thought about the prospect of playing the game he’s always loved, for his hometown club and starting a family in the community that gave him so much. He smiled and started to laugh.
“Man,” he said. “I really hope it’s in Seattle.”