When the SDP 2005s toppled Charlton Athletic 5-2 to in the Youdan Trophy final two weeks ago, they became the third consecutive Sounders youth team to secure the prestigious title. For the third summer in a row, the Rave Green also took home the top individual accolades, with midfielder Juan Alvarez winning Player of the Tournament and Clemente Esquivel finishing as the top-scorer with six goals. Past winners include S2 and USYNT prospects, Azriel Gonzalez and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez.
Another top performer, outside back Josh Hardin, tallied an eye-popping eight assists in six matches.
“I think it says a lot about our approach with this age group,” said Sounders Discovery Program Director Brayton Knapp. “A lot credit goes to [Academy Scout] Henry Brauner and [Head of Affiliations and Club Partnership Development] Dan Lock, both of them worked with the age group throughout the year, as well as all the work that Henry does with scouting. I think having a unified approach to how we play and how we train players at this age is continuing to provide us with solid performance at these events. Whether the players have been in SDP for two years or they’ve only been in for a few phases, they’re able to quickly grasp the concepts and our DNA.”
SDP is an initiative run by Sounders Academy that invites the top local players to train twice per week with Academy coaches using the Academy training curriculum. Running in four-month cycles, it aims to increase the efficacy of scouting, player identification and player evaluations, all while making a positive impact on their technical and tactical development.
Since Sounders Academy doesn’t field full-time teams until the U-15 age group, plenty of credit for the success of these SDP groups goes to the local clubs. Throughout the past two years, SDP teams have competed in five international tournaments, which helps accelerate the development of these talented youngsters by exposing them to a higher level of competition. It also eases the transition to the full-time Academy for the top performers as they’ve been immersed in the Sounders system for several years.
“If you watch some of the movements from the players or different phases of the game at Youdan, you’ll see the same things you’d see at the U-17 or U-19 level,” said Knapp. “It’s important for us because we’re trying to create a club identity and a club culture.”
After storming through the group stage with a +6 goal difference, the young Sounders grinded out a 1-0 win over Leeds United in the quarterfinals. In the semis, the Rave Green raced out to a 3-0 lead over Sheffield Wednesday, with the Sounders eventually winning 4-0. With another Youdan title on the line, Seattle secured the win from the opening whistle as Esquivel scored the opener ten seconds into the match.
Seattle went on to win 5-2 behind a brace from the Golden Boot winner, goals from Farhan Mustafa and Jaggar Judkins, and a 40-yard golazo from center back Angel Martinez, who played two-years up with the U-15s last season.
Wrapping up the trip, the 2005s battled Brighton and Hove Albion to a 1-1 draw in a friendly, with Martinez once again finding the back of the net.
Clemente Esquivel (left) and Juan Alvarez (right) hold their individual awards from Youdan Trophy | Lauren Babcock
While the trip to England was an unmitigated success on the pitch, the trip was equally valuable for the young Sounders from a cultural perspective.
“These experiences are huge for the players,” said Knapp. “We had some players who have never left the country, and we had some players who it was their first flight. These trips tell you a lot about who they are and their character. When they travel, they represent themselves, the club and their family. On this trip, they definitely exemplified that and held themselves to a high standard.”
Ultimately, Sounders Academy exists to develop players for the First Team. For the Rave Green youth system to win the Youdan Trophy three years running, taking home the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards each summer as well, is a clear indication that there are extremely promising prospects making their way up the pipeline.