Seattle Sounders FC 2 signed Academy and U.S. youth national team prospect Josh Atencio on Tuesday. Atencio, 16, has made plenty of waves throughout his four years in the club, including a goal in his debut for S2 on the road against Timbers 2 on Aug. 19. His impressive cameo performance as a substitute against T2 earned him a start in S2’s next match against OKC Energy FC.
“I’m pretty hyped, ready to get started for the season,” said Atencio. “I played a couple of games last season, but now I’m ready to be full in on S2.”
Whether it’s competing in front of thousands of fans or plying your trade against grown men, the transition from the youth ranks to professional soccer can be difficult. But time and time again, Atencio has demonstrated that he thrives under pressure against top competition.
“We’re very pleased that Josh has signed,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “The more you watch Josh Atencio, the more you appreciate what he brings. He brings a lot of intangibles to our club, and we believe that he has terrific potential.”
One of the top prospects for both club and country, Atencio has been a staple of U.S. youth national teams since he first represented the Stars and Stripes at the U-15 level. In 2017, he started every match at the storied Torneo Delle Nazioni in Italy as the United States won the competition, defeating Russia, Portugal and England. Later that summer, he was a key contributor for the a U.S. U-15 side that finished second at the Concacaf Championship.
For the U-17 national team, Atencio has squared off against the likes of the Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Mexico.
A cerebral and technical box-to-box midfielder, Atencio joined Sounders Academy in 2016. After showcasing an uncanny ability to break lines and dictate the tempo of matches, he was quickly promoted to the U-17s, who would go on to advance to the USSDA quarterfinals that year.
One year later, he bossed the midfield as the young Sounders trounced Atlanta United 5-1 for the club’s first national championship.
Atencio celebrating after winning the USSDA national championship | Nick Smith
“I think the best way you notice Josh is when he doesn’t play,” said Sounders Academy Director of Coaching Chris Little, who coached Atencio on the U-17s last season. “He does all the things that are easy to miss: possession regains, winning second balls, blocking up passing lanes. He does all those jobs that are so vital, but he’s also a talented player on the ball. He’s comfortable in possession, links the play well, and does a good job of setting the tempo in games.”
While he’ll face stronger opponents in the USL than in the DA, Atencio is no stranger to elite competition. In 2017, he scored the opening goal as the Rave Green defeated Manchester City 3-2 at the Man City Cup. He started every match at the event, with the Sounders finishing third by beating Tottenham Hotspur.
Later that summer, he was one of the top players at the Youdan Trophy, which Seattle lifted with marquee wins over storied European clubs like Celtic FC and FC Basel. Artencio captained the team against Everton FC in the tournament final and slotted home the decisive penalty in a shootout.
Capping off a phenomenal year of unique opportunities, Atencio participated in the First Team’s 2017 preseason.