The Seattle Sounders Academy U-17s are national champions.
The young Sounders kept their high-octane attack rolling against Atlanta United as they secured their third trophy in under a year with a 5-1 win in the U-16/17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Final.
It was actually Atlanta, the reigning U-17 DA champs, who opened the scoring in the 8th minute. Sounders goalkeeper Bobby Harraka came up with an impressive close-range save on United’s McDonald, but Mangarov pounced on the rebound, shepherding the ball over the line.
Undeterred, the young Sounders piled on the pressure immediately, counter-pressing Atlanta and sending wave after wave of dynamic attacks. Striker Alec Diaz flashed his pace as he repeatedly got in behind the defense, only to come agonizingly close on several occasions. The trio of Marlon Vargas, Ray Serrano and Danny Robles created several clear-cut chances, but were unable to find the equalizing goal.
That all changed in the 40th minute, when Serrano pounced on an errant back pass, rounded the goalkeeper and finished into an empty net. The equalizing goal was marred by a bit of controversy a few minutes later, when Atlanta’s Delgado and Seattle’s Vargas both received straight red cards after the former laid down a heavy, late challenge on Robles.
As they have done all season, the young Sounders elevated their game in the face of adversity, with Diaz scoring an absolute golazo on the brink of halftime. Robles found the feet of Diaz inside the box, who then Cruyff-turned three defenders and curled his shot into the top corner.
Both sides traded blows after the interval, but it was the Sounders who extended their lead courtesy of a pair of substitutes, S2’s Azriel Gonzalez and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez. Gonzalez received a the ball in transition and played a no-look through-ball into the right channel for Ocampo-Chavez, who dribbled through two defenders and fired a shot off the near post, which Serrano swept into an empty net.
Atlanta nearly halved the deficit in the 77th minute, with the referee awarding a questionable penalty kick. Harraka came up clutch, though, as he produced a stunning save on the penalty kick attempt. The Sounders added a fourth a few minutes later when substitute Danny Leyva (2003) picked off a clearance and played a reverse pass to Ocampo-Chavez, who squared the ball to Gonzalez for a simple finish.
With Atlanta pushing forward in second-half stoppage time, Ocampo-Chavez iced the game with a cold-blooded finish from center back Blake Malone’s incisive, outside-the-foot through-ball.
The U-17s were already the first team in club history to advance to the USSDA final. With the 5-1 win, though, they are now the first-ever Sounders youth side to win a national championship. It’s just the latest trophy in the U-17's cabinet, as they’ve won both the Youdan Trophy in England and the Generation adidas Cup in the last 12 months. Playing an aesthetic, progressive brand of soccer, the young Sounders overpowered every team in their path with a blend of counter-pressing and scintillating combination play in the final third.
Exposure Pays Off
One word always comes up when speaking with Sounders Academy staff: exposure. They want to take the brightest prospects out of their comfort zone and expose them to higher levels of play. The core of this team all played up on the U-17s last season, and nearly every player on the pitch has played for or trained with S2 this season. In addition to professional experience, these kids have already defeated their counterparts from storied international clubs like Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton FC and Club América. That exposure paid off, as the young Sounders registered a +21 goal differential from just six matches in the DA playoffs.
Ray Serrano reacts after scoring in the Sounders Academy 5-1 win over Atlanta United / Nick Smith
Defense Stands Tall
With so many goals, the attack will get plenty of plaudits -- and rightfully so. But the defense deserves praise as well, as they repelled an incredibly lethal Atlanta United side. In addition to dictating the tempo with their passing, defensive midfielders Josh Atencio and Peter Kingston - as well as their replacements Leyva and Sota Kitahara (2003) - shielded the back line with aplomb. Outside backs Connor Drought and Enrique Montana bombed down the flanks while absolutely locking down Atlanta’s wide players. Seattle sat back a bit after going up 3-1, and center backs Malone and captain Leo Burney, a local product of Seattle United, were dominant as they defended on the front foot. Needless to say, Harraka’s PK save in the 77th minute all but ensured that Sounders would bring the trophy home.