It’s official: The Seattle Sounders U-17s will face Atlanta United on Tuesday, July 10 for a chance to win the U-16/17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy national title.
The young Sounders advanced to the championship match for the first time in club history courtesy of a commanding 4-1 win over Barca Academy AZ in the semifinals.
Seattle came flying out of the gates to open the match, nearly finding the back of the net in the 9th minute when center back Blake Malone rose highest to a corner kick, but his driven header was corralled by the Barca goalkeeper.
However, the Rave Green opened the scoring just one minute later as striker Alec Diaz latched onto Danny Roble’s through ball and calmly slid his shot underneath the onrushing goalkeeper. Unfortunately for the young Sounders, Barca drew level in the 14th minute off a swift counter-attack.
Galvanized by their equalizer, Barca controlled possession for the duration of the half. Sounders goalkeeper Bobby Harraka denied Barca the go-ahead goal with a sprawling save from a free-kick in the 28th minute as both sides entered halftime level at 1-1.
Malone continued to be a menace on set pieces in the second half, with the Las Vegas native breaking the deadlock with a glancing header from Robles’ corner kick in the 59th minute. As Barca pushed forward in search of an equalizer, a pair of S2 teammates, Azriel Gonzalez and Marlon Vargas, linked up for the decisive third goal. Gonzalez lofted a pass into the path of Vargas, who turned his man inside-out and fired his shot inside the near post.
Barca nearly pulled one back in the 84th minute, only to be denied by another full-extension save from Harraka. That intervention proved pivotal as S2 and U.S. U-17 forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez put the game to bed in the 87th minute with a curled, left-footed shot that nestled inside the far post.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
It’s impossible to overstate just how deep this U-17 squad is.
After running Barca’s defense ragged, Diaz, who had scored his fifth goal in five playoff matches, was replaced by Ocampo-Chavez, who tallied his fifth postseason goal. Meanwhile, Ray Serrano - another S2-signed player who is a regular with the U.S. U-17s - made way for his S2 teammate, Gonzalez, a mainstay with the U.S. U-18s.
After assisting the first two goals, Robles came off for Danny Leyva, a member of the U.S. U-16s that is playing two years up with the Sounders U-17s, who assisted Ocampo-Chavez’s goal. Looking to close out the game, Head Coach Chris Little swapped out S2 winger Vargas with Sota Kitahara, a 14-year-old defensive midfielder that has received numerous U.S. Youth national team call-ups in the past year.
In total, the U-17s rolled out six USYNT players and four full-fledged professionals with S2.
EXPOSURE PAYS OFF
Often times in knockout competitions, experience proves to be the difference between wins and losses. Despite being the youngest U-17 team in the country, the Sounders possess a wealth of domestic and international experience that has left them in pole position to secure the national title.
The likes of Gonzalez, Ocampo-Chavez, Serrano, Kitahara, Drought, Vargas and Peter Kingston were key members of last year’s U-17 squad that was eliminated in the USSDA quarterfinals by the Vancouver Whitecaps. But, in the past year, this team has gone on to win international competitions like Youdan Trophy and Generation adidas Cup, preparing them well for the do-or-die nature of the postseason.
The young Sounders pride themselves on being a multi-faceted team capable of dismantling opponents in a variety of ways. That diversity was on full-display against Barca, with one goal coming from a set piece, one from a counter-attack, and two from quick combinations after counter-pressing the opponent.