Four Seattle Sounders Academy standouts — Danny Leyva, Sota Kitahara, Nico Rei McMillan and Eric Kinzner — have been called up to the United States U-16 national team by Head Coach Shaun Tsakaris for a domestic camp in Bradenton, Fla., running from Sept. 12-19.
All four players have been regular participants in USYNT programming throughout the last two years, with Leyva and Kinzner playing integral roles for the U.S. U-16s as they secured a third-placed finish at the Torneo Delle Nazioni back in April.
“It says an awful lot about the quality that’s coming through the club that we can get four players into one national team,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “I think the amount of call-ups speaks for itself.”
The slew of call-ups to the U-16 national team is a vindication of the Academy’s expansive youth programming, which is aimed at increasing the quality of player development at the youngest age groups. Leyva, a box-to-box midfielder, was identified through the club’s national scouting network and signed from Heat FC in Nevada, while McMillan, Kitahara and Eric Kinzner all came through the Sounders Discovery Program.
In accordance with Sounders Academy’s “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” philosophy, Kitahara and Leyva combined for over 40 appearances with the U-17s last year, playing two years above their age group.
All four of the young Sounders featured for the U-17s in Generation adidas Cup last year, which the team eventually won as it toppled New York Red Bull 2-1 in the Premier Division final.
“Danny and Sota were playing for the U-17s last year, and Nico and Eric are starting right now with the U-17s, too,” said Nicholls. “These players have been pushed and challenged. We placed a bit of time with Nico and Eric last year with the U-17s on trips and tournaments, and that’s what pays dividends in the end. When the players are ready to try something different, we’ve had no hesitation in promoting them. That’s who we are now as a club.”
In the last six months alone, Sounders Academy players have been called up to the U.S. U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-20 national teams, a clear indication of the club’s burgeoning reputation and growing impact on the future of U.S. Soccer.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re in the top three of clubs in the USA in terms of providing the most players to U.S. youth national teams,” said Nicholls. “We’re obviously delighted about that, but at the same time, we have some very good players, so it’s not really a huge surprise to us that that’s happened.
“We have to play [USSDA] matches while they’re gone, so it’s an opportunity for other young ones to step up and other players to step up. It’s a nice cycle that we’ve got going.”
With four Rave Green prospects called in to camp, a club record for a single camp, Sounders Academy is tied with FC Dallas for the most players from one club on the 36-man roster.
The full roster and programming for the camp can be found here.