Sounders Academy U-17’s captain Leo Burney celebrates long-awaited national title

The Sounders U-17s are national champions after defeating Atlanta United 5-1 in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoff final on Tuesday, July 10.

When the young Sounders took the field at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Missouri, eight of the starters were from clubs throughout Washington state. Led by captain Leo Burney, who marshalled the resolute back line, the U-17s wrapped up a stellar postseason run with a perfect record, scoring 28 goals and conceding just six times as they won all six matches.

“I’m just really proud of the way that we fought,” said Burney. “We were able to come back from being down 1-0. It just shows the perseverance of this team and the togetherness of the group.”

A perfect finale to a record-breaking season, this national title has been several years in the making.

Burney, who joined the club from Sounders FC Youth Partner Club Seattle United, was a part of the first ever Sounders Discovery Program class back in 2014. An initiative that invites the best players between the ages of 10-13 to train twice per week with Sounders Academy staff, SDP has greatly increased the technical ability and tactical acuity for young local players.

Director of Player Development March Nichols and Leo Burney in 2014 | Chris Coulter

“This national championship is the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” said U-17 Head Coach Chris Little. “Our partner clubs have done a fantastic job. We don’t start full-time Academy teams until U-15, so we rely on all the hard work that they put in. Brayton Knapp, Dan Lock, Henry Brauner and our entire SDP staff have done a great job getting these kids in a couple nights a week, getting them used to our culture and doing technical work to help them be a Sounder.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by SDP alum Burney.

“I think the Academy has done a great job with the scouting network and finding players in Seattle,” he said. “The SDP program is great because it allows us to find talent, and I’m glad that young players are able to get these opportunities at such a young age.”

With so many U.S. Youth National Team prospects on the squad, as well as four full-fledged professionals on S2 contracts, some incredibly talented players on the U-17s have flown under the radar. But the commanding win on the DA’s biggest stage has brought every player on the roster into the limelight.

“We have a really deep team, which is something we’ve known since the start of the season,” said Burney. “We’ve got great guys coming off the bench and contributing. Every player on this team is able to contribute and put in great shifts out there.”

After anchoring the U-17s backline to a 27-3-3 regular season record with a +81 goal differential, the young center back captained Seattle as they lifted the Generation Adidas Cup back in March. And in the final against Atlanta, Burney was absolutely dominant as he snuffed out attacks, won all of his aerial duels and initiated the Sounders’ offense with composed passing out of the back.

Burney wins a header during the semifinal against Barca | Nick Smith

As a local kid and lifelong Sounders fan, it was a special moment for Burney to lead his side to the club’s first-ever national championship.

“It’s amazing to see that we have so much support [on social media] from the Sounders fans,” said Burney. “Seattle is obviously is a great city for soccer because people have really supported it. It’s great to see that, as young players, we’re getting recognition from the rest of the community in Seattle.”

Burney is a humble kid who quietly goes about his work. And as he’s done all year, his leadership and performance in the national title game showed just what it means to him to pull on the Sounders’ Rave Green jersey and represent the club.

“Leo was amazing,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “He’s underrated and he’s got an unbelievable character. He’s a local kid -- came from Seattle United -- and an impeccable person. A true captain.”