The Future is now: Sounders Academy

The Future is Now: Inside the Seattle Sounders' pipeline

NOTE: This is a feature story in the August edition of Sounders Monthly. Click here to see the full edition or access it on the Sounders Mobile App.

While the international marketplace continues to play a key role in shaping Sounders FC, there is an increasing emphasis on the academy system. The current structure begins with a discovery program, which gives elite preteens and 13-year-olds an opportunity to join the academy. Each age from 14-18 has its own squad. Then there is S2, which is the USL-affiliated side that directly feeds into the First Team. There are seemingly endless ways for players to be brought through the Sounders’ pipeline. Here, we look at several different examples of how young players end up pulling on the Rave Green jersey, the paths they take and a top prospect from each track.


Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez

Age: 15
Team: U-17s
Position: Forward

Ocampo-Chavez first joined the Sounders youth system in the summer of 2016. He was originally placed on the U-14 squad, but soon moved up to the U-16s. He is part of the homestay program, which connects out-of-market academy players with Sounders fans to provide residency. Ocampo-Chavez recently led the United States U-15s to victory in the Torneo Delle Nazioni in Gradisca d’Isonzo, Italy, with three goals and three assists from just four matches. He made his professional debut for S2 in USL play against Real Monarchs SLC on July 8. He was awarded the Golden Boot at the Youdan Trophy in Sheffield, England, as the leading scorer with eight goals and two assists from five matches against the likes of FC Basel and Everton FC.


Sam Fowler

Age: 16
Team: U-17s
Position: Goalkeeper

Fowler first joined the club’s youth setup as a 13-year-old in the Sounders Discovery Program, making him one of the first players to graduate from SDP into the full Academy. He impressed at both the U-14 and U-15 levels and has been the starting goalkeeper for the U-16s the last two seasons. Fowler has been called into two United States U-17 training camps in 2017 and has started two matches in goal for S2 this season. He was recently named to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy 2016-17 Best XI for the Western Conference.


Azriel Gonzalez

Age: 16
Team: S2
Position: Midfielder/Forward

Gonzalez (pictured above) came to Sounders Academy at age 13, moving to Seattle from Las Vegas. In his three years in the system, he routinely played up to three years above his own age group. His participated in preseason with the First Team in January. Gonzalez signed his first professional contract with S2 on July 17, becoming the youngest pro signing in club history. Gonzalez won the Golden Boot at the Youdan Trophy in August 2016, scoring five goals in five matches and helping the Sounders U-16s win the tournament. Gonzalez is also a regular with the U.S. U-16s. He has made seven appearances for S2, two of them starts, and recorded his first pro assist in a 3-0 win over LA Galaxy II on June 3.


Handwalla Bwana

Age: 18
Team: Sophomore, University of Washington
Position: Attacking midfielder

Bwana (pictured above) first joined the Sounders in 2015, spending his U-18 season with Sounders Academy and scoring nine goals in league play. His performances for the youth team warranted a call-up to S2, making six appearances before joining up with the University of Washington for his freshman campaign. His four goals and seven assists earned Bwana Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2016. He spent the summer training with S2, ensuring the club retains his Homegrown rights. He is eligible to sign with the club at any time, like Seyi Adekoya (UCLA) and Henry Wingo (Washington) last season.


Sam Rogers

Age: 18
Team: S2
Position: Defender

Rogers (pictured above) was brought into Sounders Academy from local affiliate Eastside FC to play in the first U-14 squad in 2013. He then captained the U-16s last year and the U-18s in the spring. After training during preseason with the First Team, Rogers won the starting job as a center back for S2. He signed his first contract with the USL side on June 13. Just 18, Rogers started two matches for the First Team in the U.S. Open Cup against the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes. Rogers also led to the Academy U-18 squad to its best finish in USSDA postseason play, anchoring the backline to a third-place finish. He was named to the USSDA 2016-17 Western Conference Best XI.


Rodrigue Ele

Age: 19
Team: S2
Position: Defender

Ele (pictured above) is one of six players in the past two years to make the journey from Cameroonian first division club Rainbow FC to S2. This rich pipeline of talent is the same one that supplied First Team left back Nouhou. Along with S2 teammate Felix Chenkam, Ele is a member of the Cameroon U-20 national team. Ele possesses all of the ideal traits for a modern center back: height, speed, strength, technical ability and composure in possession. He often initiates the team’s attacks by stepping into midfield and playing defense-splitting passes to the forward’s feet, garnering a passing percentage of nearly 80 percent this season. He has made three First Team appearances across the U.S. Open Cup and a friendly.


Denso Ulysse

Age: 18
Team: S2
Position: Defender

Ulysse was first scouted by S2 Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship qualifying tournament, where he was named to the tournament Best XI. Before linking up with S2, he starred for Haitian club Real Hope. Ulysse is the latest product of S2’s pipeline from the under-scouted Caribbean region, following in the footsteps of Jordy Delem and former Sounder Oalex Anderson. Ulysse combines attacking flair with dogged defending as an outside back. His crossing from the right flank is top-notch, making him an exciting two-way player.


Ray Saari

Age: 22
Team: S2
Position: Midfielder

Despite a productive college career at the University of Tulsa, Saari (pictured above) did not receive an invitation to the MLS Combine. Looking to pursue a professional career, Saari joined S2 for 2017 USL preseason and impressed the coaching staff enough to receive a contract. Saari is a two-way player, leading S2 in chances created while having a knack for interceptions. Saari reads the game incredibly well and often sets the tempo of the match, both in defense and attack, and often serves as the heartbeat of S2’s midfield.