Seattle Sounders FC 2 announced the signing of Sounders Academy and U.S. youth national team prospect Ray Serrano on Tuesday. Serrano, 15, turned plenty of heads throughout his two years in the Rave Green youth system, as well as several stints with the U.S., and is the youngest player in club history to ink a professional contract.
The young Sounder is now the sixth player to sign directly to S2 from Sounders Academy, and the fifth since the start of the 2017 season, a clear sign of the club’s burgeoning pathway from the youth ranks through to the First Team.
“It feels great [to sign a contract],” said Serrano. “All the hard work I’ve put in is paying off, but I still need to put in more work to make it where I want to be as a professional.”
While signing players from the Academy is nothing new for Sounders FC, Serrano's progression from a talented kid on a small, local select team in Eastern Washington to a rising star for the U.S. U-17s and a professional with the Sounders is rather exceptional.
“Ray is a really interesting and unique player,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “His journey to us is a rare one when you consider that he is from Moses Lake, Wash. When you think about Clint Dempsey and where he’s from, there are these communities throughout the United States where it’s proven difficult for talented young players to be identified.”
Added Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey: “We are excited to continue to sign younger players to the organization and to add players from Washington state. This is a real credit to the depth of our academy to identify and develop young talent.”
Serrano’s progression from Academy standout to a full-fledged professional is a testament to the club’s youth programming and scouting infrastructure. He was initially spotted by the Academy’s Eastern Washington youth-club partner, the Spokane Sounders, and soon thereafter joined the club, where he quickly caught the eye of the Academy staff.
“When we first set eyes on Ray, we could tell immediately that he had something different from most players, some very special qualities,” said Nicholls. “Most of the credit must go to Ray and his family for immediately taking the opportunity to come in with us full-time and for moving over this way, it’s a great testament to how seriously they take this opportunity.”
In his two years in the Sounders’ youth system, Serrano has showcased a penchant for scoring incredible goals and creating quality opportunities for teammates. Back in 2016, Serrano started the season as a key player for the U-15s, but after a star-turn performance for the U-17s in the Generation adidas Cup group stage, he was promoted to the older squad. Serrano’s dominant showings throughout the remainder of the 2016-17 season with the U-17s earned him an invitation to the U.S. Soccer Futures Camp alongside two current members of the U-15 squad, Peter Carriker and Charlie Holmes.
In August, Serrano played an integral role in the young Sounders repeating as champions of the Youdan Trophy, defeating top-class international sides such as Celtic FC, Wolverhampton Wanderers, FC Basel and Everton FC. He also spent all of preseason training with the First Team in Chula Vista, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz., and played in MLS friendlies against the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC.
“Ray has benefitted from playing up and being pushed and tested in older age groups,” said Nicholls. “He’s also benefited from international experience with both our Academy and the United States youth national teams. Wherever we’ve pushed him, he’s responded favorably, which to us is another indicator of his potential.”
Despite missing several games this season through U.S. U-17 duty, including a recent call-up to the USYNT Summit Camp, Serrano has tallied 17 goals and six assists from just 17 games for the U-17s across all competitions. Among players with at least 10 appearances, he has the eighth-highest goals per game rate in the USSDA.
At just 15, Serrano will likely continue to play matches with the Academy, as well as train with S2 and compete for playing time in USL. According to Nicholls, his contract is a reward for his hard work and progress through the Academy, but it will also challenge him to continue his development at the next level.
“Talent is too rare to stand still, we have to keep pushing him forward,” said Nicholls. “It’s a continuation of our ongoing policy in rewarding the talented Academy players with an opportunity to gain a professional contract. It’s just another indicator of our club’s integration, and to reward bright, exciting players from within.”