SEATTLE - Prior to the start of the 2017 MLS campaign, Seattle Sounders FC announced that for the first time in club history, six current Sounders Academy players would join the first team for preseason. While this was an exciting chance for supporters to get a glimpse of future stars of the first team, it presented an opportunity to several youth-team standouts to make an impression on head coach Brian Schmetzer and the rest of the technical staff.
A few months later, it’s plain to see that these young prospects have benefitted from their time with the first team. And while part of their recent development can be attributed to training and competing regularly with the likes of Clint Dempsey and Joevin Jones, the opportunity to receive instruction from Schmetzer and his staff has been instrumental. And with several of the young Sounders playing the same position as the guys on the technical staff, all of whom played professionally at a high level, it’s an ideal environment for Academy standouts.
“We have a well-rounded staff that has incredible experiences,” said Sounders Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “From Gonzalo Pineda, who has played in the World Cup for Mexico, to Djimi Traore, who has won the UEFA Champions League. Gonzalo and Djimi can have on guys like Sam Rogers (U-18) and [left back] Jake Morris (U-18) is massive.”
For Rogers in particular, working in close quarters with the likes of Traore and Pineda has been a boon to his development. An elite defensive midfielder making the transition to center back with Sounders FC 2, learning from a pair of coaches with vast professional experience has been a catalyst of his rapid ascent from Academy standout to S2 starter.
“It’s been great working with Djimi and Pineda, two guys who were some of the best in the world at their positions,” Rogers said of learning from the first-team staff. “It’s great to get insight from them, ask them questions and get feedback so I can work on the little things to improve my overall game.”
According to Traore, Rogers’ growth in recent months has excited the coaching staff about his long-term potential.
“Sam is a good young prospect,” said Traore. “He’s already shown that he can do the job and he’s improved a lot, but I want to see him continue to start with S2.
“He has a very, very high-ceiling, and now it’s just a matter of time whether or not he breaks into the first team,” Traore added. “It’s a long process but he’s lucky to be in a club where we have some of the top center backs in the country with international experience, for example Chad Marshall and Román Torres.”
In addition to Rogers, two U.S. Youth National Team goalkeepers in the Academy eligible for S2 this Season, Trey Muse (U-18) and Sam Fowler (U-16), have been valuable additions in training. The pair of talented shot-stoppers join a goalkeepers union boasting the likes of MLS Cup MVP Stefan Frei and Club Director of Goalkeeping Tom Dutra.
“Trey and Sam have both done really well and have progressed a lot,” said Dutra. “It’s really important for them to train with us so they can learn the culture we’re trying to set here, and Stef and Tyler Miller are great mentors and bring the young guys in as one of their own.”
In addition to the coaching staff, the youth-team prospects can emulate the progression and coachability of Homegrown players Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar. As fellow Academy alums, they can lean on the established professionals for advice and ultimately follow in their footsteps.
Only time time will tell if these hyper-talented young players will make it as professionals. But with coaches like Schmetzer, Dutra, Traore, and Pineda, they’re in the perfect environment to develop and realize their full potential.