This is a feature in Issue 15 of Sounders Monthly. Copies are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central. You can also access it on the Sounders Mobile App.
Seattle Sounders FC 2 forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez remembers the precise moment he found out that Sounders Academy was interested in him.
Ocampo-Chavez, then 13, was taking a nap after school. All of a sudden, his mom burst into his room, yelling at him to wake up. As any adolescent would do, he mentally went through all the things for which he could be in trouble. With tears of joy in her eyes, his mom hugged him and said that the Sounders wanted him to fly Seattle to go on trial with the U-15 team.
“I was scared for a moment,” recalled Ocampo-Chavez, now 16. “Then when she told me, I went from sleepy to wide awake, and I was just so excited.”
Ocampo-Chavez spent the bulk of his early youth career playing for a Development Academy side, Merced Atlas Soccer Academy, in his hometown of Merced, Calif., a city in the San Joaquin Valley about 130 miles southeast of San Francisco. It was with this team that Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls first spotted him.
“What immediately struck me was a kid who was playing on a team that was struggling a bit,” said Nicholls. “But no matter what, he found a way to score goals. Not only that, there was a variety to the goals he scored: he scored a header at the back post, he scored a volley at the top of the box, he scored a 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper. So we brought him in and he did extremely well in the trial, and now he’s got the potential of a U-17 World Cup experience…and a very promising future ahead of him.”
A dynamic, technical and intelligent striker, Ocampo-Chavez turned plenty of heads throughout his week-long trial with the U-15s.
Ocampo-Chavez against Columbus Crew SC Academy in the USSDA quarterfinal
“It took five minutes to realize that this was a player who was the best forward in the country at his age,” said U-15 Head Coach Sean Henderson. “There are some players that everybody sees it, and he was one of them. He’s one of five or six kids coming through right now that have more potential than we’ve ever seen in Sounders Academy.”
In addition to making the Sounders, he received his first U.S. youth national team call-up with the U-14s that same week. He has since become a mainstay for the U.S. at the U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels, consistently scoring goals against the likes of the Netherlands, Mexico and England.
Helping him get acclimated to a new city, the club enrolled Ocampo-Chavez in the Homestay Program, which places out-of-market Sounders Academy signings with local families. Having such a robust support network around these young players enables them to focus solely on soccer and their development.
“When he’s on form, we don’t think there’s a better striker his age in the whole country.” — S2 Assistant Coach Wade Webber on Ocampo-Chavez
“We think it’s important that new players get to know their own age group a little bit, so we started him with the U-15s,” said Nicholls. “It wasn’t long of course until [Ocampo-Chavez] began starting for the U-17s at Generation adidas Cup. I think it gave him the push he needed to raise his game and continue to develop.”
Playing two years up with the U-17s, he recorded four goals and two assists from three matches against the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers. After his breakout performances at GA Cup, Ocampo-Chavez moved up to the U-17s full time. A couple of months later, Chris Little was brought on as the new head coach, and he was immediately impressed by his young striker.
“I came in and I’d heard a lot of good things about him,” Little recalled. “When you first get an opportunity to watch him and work with him, you see has good ability in front of goal. He’s creative, has a good eye for goal and can play with both feet. As a striker, he has a really good change of speed and direction.”
Ocampo-Chavez against Concorde Fire in the USSDA group stage
Ocampo-Chavez’s best performances came against international competition during the summer of 2017. At the Manchester City Cup, he scored a first-half hat trick against Liga MX side Club America, arguably one of the best youth teams in the world at that age group.
Two months later, he made his professional debut at the age of 15, starting a road match for S2 against Real Monarchs SLC.
In the Youdan Trophy, he was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer, recording eight goals and four assists against European powerhouses like Celtic, FC Basel and Everton, as the Sounders repeated as champions.
If you ask the Sounders Academy and S2 coaches which facets of his game he’s developed the most, you’ll get 10 different answers, which indicates how quickly he’s evolving into a well-rounded striker. A quick, intelligent player with tremendous balance, he has dramatically improved his combination play, defensive pressing, finishing and dribbling ability.
“He’s one of five or six kids coming through right now that have more potential than we’ve ever seen in Sounders Academy.” — U-15 Head Coach Sean Henderson on Ocampo-Chavez
His progress in the youth ranks was rewarded with a professional deal when he inked an S2 contract on April 10. It was a moment Ocampo-Chavez first thought possible one year earlier as several Sounders Academy prospects turned pro.
“When Shandon [Hopeau] signed, that was my first year with the Academy,” said Ocampo-Chavez. “And then there goes Sam Rogers [a few months later]. That same year, Azriel [Gonzalez] signed, and he’s one of my closest friends. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m just one step away, so I’ve got to work even harder.’”
Ocampo-Chavez’s meteoric rise through the organization is a case of being the right player, in the right place, at the right time.
As a member of the U-17 team, which stormed through the playoffs with 26 goals in six matches as they secured the USSDA national title, he’s been immersed in an environment where he has to compete for his spot every night at training. It’s instilled a mindset that, if you’re given opportunities, you have to capitalize, which he demonstrated by tallying a goal and two assists as a substitute in the DA final against Atlanta United.
Ocampo-Chavez against Sporting Kansas City Academy in the USSDA group stage
“That team is sort of an embarrassment of riches,” said S2 Assistant Coach Wade Webber. “You can’t be a luxury player on that U-17 team, and that’s so refreshing. I guarantee you that there are few situations in America, at the professional or amateur level, where a player of Alfonso’s stature — national team, accolades, the whole thing — is not an automatic first choice. When he’s on form, we don’t think there’s a better striker his age in the whole country. If he’s not on form, he won’t start. Every day it’s about proving it.”
The Academy believes in accelerating the development of talented young prospects by exposing them to higher levels of play. Enrolling in online school under the tutelage of Sounders Academy Head of Education and Welfare Diane Carney has given Ocampo-Chavez the flexibility in his schedule to train with S2 and the First Team in the mornings, take classes during the day and then train with the U-17s at night.
At 14, Ocampo-Chavez decided to move away from home to pursue his dreams of playing professional soccer. Now that he’s signed with S2 alongside his friends from the U-17s, he has achieved that goal. However, his years in the Sounders’ professional youth system have taught him that this is just the first step.
“I feel like it starts in the Academy, where you’ve got to earn your spot,” reflected Ocampo-Chavez. “Once you get consistent, your goal has to change to becoming a starter in S2. It takes a lot of hard work, but once you’re in that spot, you have to think about earning a spot on the First Team and being consistent throughout your career.”
Most talented young players struggle with the transition to the professional level, where they have to fight every day to get playing time at the weekend. But with the nightly competition on the U-17s, it’s just business as usual.
Ocampo-Chavez has demonstrated he possesses the requisite talent to be one of the top prospects for both club and country. With two years in the Sounders youth system under his belt, he’s got the support network, mentality and character to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.