The Seattle Sounders Academy U-15 and U-17 squads are off to Salt Lake City, Utah, this weekend for the first round of qualifying for the Generation adidas Cup. As the reigning champions of the GA Cup Premier Division, the U-17s will look to kick off their title defense with a strong showing against some of the top MLS youth academies.
“We’re looking forward to testing ourselves against some quality competition at GA Cup,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development Marc Nicholls. “Obviously we’ll miss the four boys who are with the U.S. U-17 national team, but it’s a chance for others to step up. Promoting young players has become a philosophy of our club, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity that they fully deserve based upon their performances.”
In the last two years, the Academy staff has used the early rounds of GA Cup to push top prospects from the younger squads out of their comfort zone by playing them against elite competition above their age group.
The 2016-17 edition of GA Cup featured the likes of Ray Serrano, Danny Robles, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Josh Atencio all playing two years up with the U-17s, which subsequently led to full-time spots on the older squad. Similarly, U.S. youth national team standouts Danny Leyva and Sota Kitahara played prominent roles throughout qualifying and the knockout rounds as the U-17s defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the GA Cup Premier Division final.
The Sounders U-17s celebrate their 2018 GA Cup Final win over the New York Red Bulls
For the upcoming qualifying matches, three players from the U-15s have been called up to the U-17s, including a player born in 2005, while the U-15 squad features four prospects who are playing one year up.
“We want to go and test ourselves against the best MLS teams,” said U-17 Head Coach Chris Little. “But, it’s a tournament and a unique competition for us where players develop in a format where there’s pressure to win. We want to win our group and advance into the Championship Division.”
While the Academy staff certainly wants to finish top of the qualifying group and advance to the Championship Division, they are not willing to sacrifice the club’s principles of exposing top young prospects to elite competition at a young age, which has proven to accelerate development in recent years.
“Last year we won the Premier Division final, and we were the second-youngest team in the competition, including domestic and international teams,” said Little. “It’s our philosophy. Even though it’s a tournament, that doesn’t waiver. We believe that this environment is perfect for testing players, so we will continue to play players up and give them opportunities. We think that’s the best way for players to grow and develop.”
ONES TO WATCH
U-17s: Angel Martinez (center back, 2005), Sota Kitahara (center midfielder, 2003), Danny Leyva (center midfielder, 2003), Jamie Lowell (goalkeeper, 2002)
U-15s: Cody Baker (center back, 2004), Juan Alvarez (attacking midfielder, 2004), Oscar Rincon (forward, 2004), Antonio Herrera (left midfielder, 2005), Josh Hardin (right midfielder, 2005)
Sounders FC U-17 vs. Portland Timbers U-17 | 11:30 a.m. PT, Zions Bank Stadium
Sounders FC U-15 vs. LA Galaxy U-15 | 4:30 p.m. PT, RSL Academy Training Facility - Field 1
Sounders FC U-17 vs. Real Salt Lake U-17 | 2 p.m. PT, Zions Bank Stadium
Sounders FC U-15 vs. Colorado Rapids U-15 | 2 p.m. PT, RSL Academy Training Facility - Field 1
Sounders FC U-17 vs. Colorado Rapids U-17 | 9 a.m. PT, Zions Bank Stadium
Sounders FC U-15 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps U-15 | 2 p.m. PT, RSL Academy Training Facility - Field 2