Seattle Sounders General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey mentioned following the club’s first MLS Cup win this past December that he wanted to make the team younger and faster.
The team that won in 2016 was comprised of a myriad of grizzled veterans and oozed experience, which is not to say it couldn’t be successful. It very clearly was. But what Lagerwey knows and has begun to prepare for is that replicating success with that DNA is next to impossible.
A team can win a championship like that. It can’t build a dynasty.
Lagerwey has already acquired two younger attackers in Will Bruin and Harry Shipp, as well as selected defensive depth on the back line at last week’s 2017 MLS SuperDraft. And on Wednesday, the Sounders added to the club’s vision for the future as Seattle signed 21-year-olds Seyi Adekoya and Henry Wingo as Homegrown Players.
What each player, and namely Adekoya brings, is speed.
“His pace is unlike anything you’ll see,” Wingo said of Adekoya. “He’s incredibly fast, he can strike a ball really, really well.”
Said Adekoya, matter-of-factly: “I have pace. I’m really fast. I like dribbling at defenders and combining with teammates to get around defenders.”
The UCLA product scored 20 goals in his three seasons with the Bruins and tormented Pac-12 back lines as a winger and withdrawn center forward. When he’s not using his agility to get down the line and playing crosses into teammates, Adekoya is playing the No. 9 role to get in behind defenders or being a hold-up player to combine with teammates to spring them free on goal.
Adekoya has also gotten better at his runs to keep defenses guessing. He’s learned when to make direct runs, when to run horizontally across the back line and when to recycle his runs, pulling out of a space to open it for a teammate.
“My movement has really developed a lot at UCLA,” said Adekoya, who has spent time watching and learning from the best. His father is Nigerian and was a fan of former Sounders forward Obafemi Martins, who now plays for Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League. Adekoya’s father would tell him to watch Martins and attack like him and fellow Seattle forward Clint Dempsey.
“In the Academy, I always watched Clint because Clint is Clint,” Adekoya said. “Just watching him and how easy it is for him to do things because he’s done them so often and so well.”
Wingo, for his part, even still has posters of Dempsey on his wall. Wingo grew up idolizing the United States men’s national team’s second all-time leading scorer and is excited to learn how to navigate the professional game from him.
Not a true defensive midfielder by trade, Wingo shifted to the No. 6 in his sophomore year at the University of Washington when a teammate went down with an injury. Wingo had never played that position before, but he picked it up quickly and excelled from the start, due in large part to his former Huskies and now current Sounders teammate Cristian Roldan.
“He never gives the ball away,” Wingo said of Roldan, who was a sophomore during Wingo’s freshman season in 2014. “His work rate was second to none. He just refuses to lose…When you see that kind of behavior from a guy you’re playing next to, it’s really infectious, you want to be a part of it and do the same.
“Those qualities are things I’ve tried to emulate in my game, they’re things that have made him an inspiration to me and have helped me learn a lot.”
Wingo covers ground extremely well and it’s what Washington head coach Jamie Clark liked so much about him. Clark said teams need players who break up plays defensively and wear down opponents on both sides of the ball, and Wingo embodies that role.
Adekoya and Wingo have been friends and teammates since they were 13 while playing for the Washington Crossfire before the Sounders Academy. They’ve even played pick-up games when on break from school back at home in Seattle, and they think incredibly highly of one another.
“When I was younger, my dad would always tell me to watch him and play more like him,” Adekoya said of Wingo. “He’s so technical.”
Adekoya and Wingo are now the eighth and ninth Homegrown Players in Sounders history, joining DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar, Victor Mansaray, Darwin Jones, Jordan Schweitzer and Jordan Morris.
For the two former youth teammates and Pac-12 rivals, they now each have the opportunity to represent the hometown club they for which they have so much admiration. And for Lagerwey, he now has two more dedicated building blocks at his disposal.
“It would be cliché to say, but [playing for the Sounders means] everything,” said Adekoya. “Every time I was in L.A., I wanted to be [in Seattle]…I like the idea of playing in front of people I know and love.”
Said Wingo: “It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be able to wear that badge and put on that shirt.”