The Sounders Academy U-14 squad is in San Diego, California, this weekend for the Manchester City Cup.
An annual tournament that pits top MLS academies against premier youth sides from around the world, the Man City Cup provides a unique experience for the young Sounders. This year’s field comprises elite international teams like Manchester City, Club America and Chivas de Guadalajara.
After securing a third-place finish at the 2017 Man City Cup, the club opted to send its 2004 Sounders Discovery Program team this time around.
“With the group being a younger SDP side, our main objective is to start developing them as a team ahead of next year,” said SDP Coach and Head of Affiliations and Club Partnership Development Dan Lock. “Obviously it would be nice to have some success at the tournament, but the main thing is to see how we match up with international opponents and other MLS teams, as well."
Aimed at improving the quality of player identification and development for local players between the ages of 10-13, SDP invites the top talents from around the region to train twice per week with the Sounders Academy coaches, which increases the efficacy of scouting and reduces the learning curve for players who join the Rave Green youth system full-time.
The young Sounders at Man City Cup are no strangers to the international stage, as the core of the group is made up of players who advanced to the semifinals of the 2017 Youdan Trophy, dismantling storied clubs like Manchester United along the way.
The SDP squad will enjoy some reinforcements from the U-15s for Man City Cup, as U.S. Youth National Team regulars Austin Brummett and Juan Alvarez, as well as standouts Connor Tollan and Angel Martinez, are all age eligible for the event.
Juan Alvarez is eligible to play for the squad the club is sending to Manchester City Cup. | Photo by Quinn Width
For the Academy staff, facing off against some of the best young players on the global stage will serve as a valuable litmus test for the growth of player development in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s good to see how the boys measure up against the best players from around the country for their age, as well as against other international opponents,” said Lock. “It’s good to see how the likes of Austin and Juan, who have been with the national team, compare when they play in their own age group, as they usually play up.”
First launched in 2014, SDP has dramatically increased the quality of player development, increasing the technical ability and tactical acuity of the player pool for the full Academy teams. Moreover, the success of the Youth Club Partnerships initiative means that many of the young prospects are developed in systems that prioritize intelligent, progressive soccer.
The bulk of the 2004 group consists of players from Pac NW, Seattle United, and Northwest United, as well as other local clubs like Seattle Surf and Washington Premier FC.
“SDP has helped develop more of a technical and tactical foundation,” added Lock. “It gives them an earlier understanding of how we want to play. We’re following the mantra from the rest of the academy by promoting young players.
“I think you’re seeing a big influence from the partner clubs in terms of getting players into SDP,” he continued. “The local DA league has helped to develop players in a different way in terms of style of play. I think that’s definitely helped the 2004 age group as they’ve had two years in the DA program.”
Ray Serrano, who signed a contract with S2 this year, shined at the Manchester City Cup in 2017. | Photo by Quinn Width
Last year’s event saw breakout performances from Josh Atencio (U-17), Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (S2) and Ray Serrano (S2), all of whom are currently USYNT regulars or full-fledged professionals.
With the young Sounders set to take on some of the top young players from around the world, some of the top talents in the group might make a name for themselves in Rave Green.
“It’s an exciting young group in terms of technical ability and style of play,” said Lock. “They fit a lot of our player profiles. It’s a really promising group for the future, especially when you add in the full-time guys.”
You can view the full tournament schedule here.