Back in 2014, the Seattle Sounders launched a player development initiative called the Sounders Discovery Program. Working in conjunction with local clubs, SDP invites the top young players between the ages of 11-13 to train together twice per week with Sounders Academy coaches. These players remain with their teams throughout the four-month cycle, bringing the lessons learned and skills developed in SDP back to their respective clubs.
The current cycle contains players from a wide array of local clubs, including Washington Premier, Pac NW, Seattle United, Seattle Celtic and Crossfire.
“One of the reasons that we wanted to start SDP was so we could have an influence with these players technically and tactically at a younger age,” said Sounders Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls. “We wanted to try and impact the technical development of the player, working alongside these local clubs, and I think we’ve been able to make really good strides. We think that the players that are coming into SDP are getting better every year.”
This week, SDP players -- born in 2005 and 2006 -- returned from Europe, where they participated in the Truce Tournament, an educational, cultural and developmental U-12 tournament hosted by the Premier League which celebrates the end of World War I.
Comprised of clubs that hail from nations that fought in the First World War, the teams traveled to England and Belgium for a round-robin tournament. The event featured educational seminars and remembrance ceremonies, as well as visits to the Premier League offices, war memorials and battle sites, woven throughout the week-long programming.
One of the highlights of the trip was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience in London.
The boys kicked off the day with a friendly scrimmage against a Premier League player development powerhouse, Tottenham Hotspur, and ended the evening by attending Spurs’ Champions League group stage game against Apoel Nicosia at Wembley Stadium.
According to Nicholls, the lessons learned and unique opportunities off the pitch were just as important as the ones discovered on it.
“Clearly the event has a big historical significance and educational experience,” he said. “These boys learned about their family history and they’ve learned more about World War I, so anything that we can do to raise the awareness of young American players very valuable for us.”
“The point of Sounders Academy is not just to develop good players,” Nicholls continued, “but good people who can have a positive impact on their local communities.”
In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the United States entering the war, the Premier League decided to invite one American team to participate in the Truce Tournament. After two seasons in which multiple Sounders Academy teams have dominated international opponents -- the Rave Green won the Youdan Trophy two years in a row and finished third at the Manchester City Cup -- Seattle was selected as the lone American academy.
“We’re really proud to be the American club that was invited by the Premier League to this event,” said Nicholls. “It shows that we’re an emerging Academy and building a reputation for player development around the world, as well as here in the United States.”
Despite having never played a match together, the young SDP squad competed admirably and improved throughout the tournament. Placed in a group alongside Hertha Berlin, Anderlecht, Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Arsenal, Seattle’s performances and results earned them a clash with Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG in the knockout round.
All of the elimination matches, however, were canceled due to heavy snowfall.
Still, it’s impossible to overlook just how unique of a player development opportunity the SDP squad had by going toe-to-toe with some of the world’s best youth teams.
“For many of the clubs we played, it was the first time they had played against Americans, so our boys were representing their families, their club and their country to some degree,” said Nicholls. “But then of course on the soccer side of it, it was basically a Champions League event -- the teams we played against are some of the best academies in the world.”
“These are experiences that can last the test of time, both in terms of life and in soccer.”