Seattle Sounders FC announced on Wednesday that Academy Director of Coaching Chris Little will replace Sounders FC 2’s outgoing Head Coach John Hutchinson, who departed for his native Australia.
Little, who was named the 2017-18 USSDA Western Conference Coach of the Year, is ready to seize this opportunity as he ushers S2 into a new era.
“I’m really excited, and I’m very thankful to the club for the opportunity,” said Little. “I’m ready to build upon all the good work that Hutch and [S2 Assistant Coach] Wade [Webber] did last year in terms of Academy integration and providing a pathway for younger players.”
In addition to serving as head of the USL side, Little will continue in his role as Director of Coaching for the Academy. During his two years as the DOC, he played a critical role in implementing a unified game model across every youth team, establishing game cues and principles of play and creating clear-cut positional profiles.
At training on Wednesday, Sounders FC General Manager Garth Lagerwey hailed Little’s promotion as a signal of the club’s commitment to player development, solidifying the pathway from the Academy to the First Team.
“This completes our restructuring of the club,” Lagerwey said. “We’re essentially removing S2 as an entity unto itself and we now have two phases of the club. We have Sounders as the First Team, and we have player development below that…The development now simply becomes U-12 to USL — it’s all one progression up to that point — and then we begin to transition players up to the First Team.”
Little’s U-17 team, which won the 2017-18 USSDA national championship, compiled a staggering record of 33-3-3, with a plus-102-goal difference, across the regular season and playoffs. Beyond results, his team regularly stood out for their inventive possession, high-pressing, protagonist brand of soccer.
My biggest takeaway from watching the U-17s this year is how much flair they play with. They don't just want to beat you, they want to style on you while they do it. Ruthless approach and mentality.— Ari Liljenwall (@AriLiljenwall) July 10, 2018
With eight players from that swashbuckling national championship side under contract with S2, the club is hopeful he can recreate that aesthetically pleasing and effective style at the USL level as the prospects continue their development.
“Young players will have to earn their minutes, as the S2 pool of signed players will be larger this year,” said Director of Player Development Marc Nicholls. “We have First Team players who will need minutes, and we also have 4-5 Academy prospects who could break into the team, so we hope that competition filters through. The USL program is very much about stability and balance this season. Chris will make that transition much easier because he knows the S2 players and who’s coming through the academy.”
In his dual role as Academy DOC and S2 head coach, Little will be tasked with implementing his game model and methodology, which continues to enjoy tremendous success in the youth ranks, at the professional level.
“I’m happy that the club has asked me to continue in the role of DOC to lead the technical direction and development side of the club,” said Little. “I’ll still be intimately involved in the Academy and our methods of coaching players. That relationship is very important as players transition into the S2 environment. We have this pathway so, when a player is excelling in the Academy, he can be brought into S2 and challenged.”
Little’s transition to leading S2 will be made simpler by having a larger, more stable roster than in seasons past. With 19 players under contract, half of whom were in the Academy under Little’s stewardship as DOC, he’ll be able to foster a more consistent training environment where players compete day-in, day-out for playing time.
Little’s promotion serves as the latest example of the club’s desire to develop coaches — Webber is an assistant coach with S2, Shannon Murray is on the Portland Timbers’ First Team staff, Junior Gonzalez is on the LA Galaxy staff, Brett Utley is a Rio Grande Valley Toros assistant and Henry Brauner is a U.S. Soccer Technical Director — as well as players.
“The idea of the Academy is growth and development, and that’s not just for the players,” said Nicholls. “Giving players and coaches opportunities is what we want to be known for.”
Little will be reunited with his cohort of hyper-talented prospects that he coached in the Academy. One of those players, striker Alec Diaz, who scored over 30 goals in the 2017-18 DA season, is thrilled to be reunited with his former mentor.
“I’m very excited,” said Diaz. “I think Chris will be a great fit for this team. He’ll do really well and help install a good [playing] system.”