In 2015, Seattle Sounders FC began investing heavily in player development, with the hope being that the club could consistently churn out hyper-talented prospects capable of contributing significant minutes to the First Team in MLS.
There are several ways to evaluate the success of financial outlays on youth development. One of the key initial indicators, players receiving a significant number of U.S. youth national team call-ups, clearly demonstrates substantial early returns on the club’s investment.
“There are a few barometers on how you measure success,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “Ultimately, we’ll expect that to be First Team minutes. But on the way there, there are things like USSDA league performances, cup performances and USL opportunities and signings.
“Another great barometer is the call-ups to the national team,” he continued. “We’re very proud and very supportive of the youth national teams. We are delighted that there are so many call-ups. We see ourselves as partners when it comes to player development and offering opportunities and exposure for our young players.”
Since midway through 2015, 35 Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance players have represented the Stars and Stripes at the U-14, U-15, U-16, U-17, U-18, U-19 and U-20 national team levels. If you include players in the Sounders Discovery Program, that figure jumps to 46 USYNT call-ups.
Beyond the sheer number of call-ups, both for domestic camps and international competition, the diversity of positions played by Sounders Academy products on the USYNT circuit suggests that the club’s positional profiles and game model are bearing fruit.
“Something that we’re very proud of is that we’ve had such a wide variety of call-ups across ages and positions,” said Nicholls. “It’s an indicator that we have a well-rounded programming and are starting to become systematic in our process.”
In terms of accelerating development, involvement with the U-17 and U-20 national teams is critical, as both teams operate on a two-year cycle, culminating in a FIFA World Cup. Five players from the Sounders youth system have been called up to the U-17 national team since the start of the 2018-19 cycle, while Sam Rogers and Trey Muse have been fixtures on the U-20s.
With so many young Sounders flooding the youth national team scene, the club is garnering recognition for its significant improvement in developing top prospects for club and country.
“Seattle has been the club, or one of the clubs, that’s grown the most [in terms of player development],” U.S. U-20 Head Coach and U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos said in a phone interview last week. “If you took possibly RSL, LA Galaxy, FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, that’s where most of our [youth national team] players came from. Now you start to add the Philadelphia Union and Seattle, and those are clubs that have done a lot to be sort of the leaders of development.”
The full list of Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance players that have received USYNT call ups since 2015 is provided below.