At first glance, the Seattle Sounders FC 2 roster for the upcoming USL season appears similar to years past in that the player pool is largely comprised of talented young prospects with the potential to contribute to the first team. A closer look, though, reveals a more nuanced approach that the staff has taken toward building the 2017 roster.
In S2’s first two seasons, the roster was primarily comprised of former college standouts with a few promising prospects signed from abroad. This season’s roster is the inverse, with plenty of players who regularly suit up as youth internationals and a handful of NCAA talents.
“We’ve done what we’ve wanted to do, which is get younger and bring some better players in,” said S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson. “We’ve gone out and got some guys who’ve represented their respective U-20 teams for their nations, as well as getting some guys from our Academy.”
With S2 still in its infancy, there’s an inherent learning curve when it comes to roster building and resource allocation. It’s no surprise then that the scouting and recruitment initiatives that were successful in the past two seasons, such as signing young internationals and integrating Academy standouts, have been cranked up for the 2017 campaign.
For starters, the Cameroonian connection, first forged by former S2 midfielder Mark O’Ojong and current first team defender Nouhou Tolo, was tapped for the 2017 roster when forward Felix Chenkam and defender Rodrigue Ele signed from Rainbow FC Bamenda. Hendrickson mined the Caribbean once more for under-scouted talent and signed Javorn Stevens and Denso Ulysse from Antigua & Barbuda and Haiti, respectively.
“We are very excited to bring these players into our organization,” Sounders FC Director of Player Personnel Kurt Schmid said. “These signings include young internationals and college standouts, plus an exciting player from our Academy.”
While there are fewer player signed from the college ranks this season, the signings that were made share similarities with the likes of Sounders FC first team midfielder Zach Mathers, who possessed plenty of raw talent but needed time in a professional setting to develop in a new position. Mathers was prolific for Duke as a No. 10/second striker, yet he earned a first team contract in the offseason after impressing in USL play as a box-to-box midfield dynamo.
On the roster for this season, former Tulsa standout Ray Saari thrived as an attacking playmaker, but has played in a deeper midfield role so far with S2. Defender Brian Nana-Sinkam, who scored his first professional goal in the 2017 season opener in a 2-1 loss to Sacramento Republic, will get plenty time to adjust to the positional nuances of outside back this campaign.
The biggest change from years past is the club’s proactive decision to rely heavily on Sounders Academy prospects. The first team brought youth team standouts to preseason and made 14 youth players eligible for S2, all of which demonstrates an organization-wide commitment to developing players internally.
“S2 continues to provide a pathway to the professional levels of our organization, and we are so pleased for these Academy players that now have this opportunity before them,” said Sounders FC Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “Each year we continue to strengthen this process, further solidifying the connection between our club’s Academy, USL side and first team.”
In years past, S2 provided an opportunity for Academy standouts to build fitness and impress the coaching staff before heading to college. This year, the Academy and S2 coaching staffs worked closely together to compile a list of players deserving of involvement, and those prospects have trained regularly with the second team throughout preseason.
Despite the small sample size, the composition of the 2017 roster is capable of some truly breathtaking attacking soccer. The Starting XI against Sacramento had an average age of 21.2 years, including 27-year-old goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, and featured four teenagers. And although they dropped the opener, the youthful side produced some beautiful, free-flowing sequences against the reigning Western Conference champions.
With so many young, talented players with high ceilings on the roster, the 2017 USL season should provide supporters plenty of opportunities to watch an exciting brand of soccer from potential future stars of the first team.