A total of 10 Sounders Academy players formally announced their commitments to different college soccer programs for NCAA National Signing Day on Wednesday. Additionally, two Tacoma Defiance players, Azriel Gonzalez and Marlon Vargas, will begin taking Southern New Hampshire University courses upon completion of the online school program in June, an initiative Sounders FC instituted two years ago.
“College soccer is the pathway for the vast majority of our players,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “We’re delighted that many of them are going to such prestigious schools, some of them on very good academic and soccer scholarships.”
Diane Carney, now in her second full year as the Head of Education and Welfare, hosted a Signing Day event at Starfire Sports in celebration of the young Sounders making the first step on their next journey.
“I’ve known the Class of 2019 since they were Sophomores when the Sounders first hired me,” said Carney. “I wanted to do something special to honor this group and their achievements both in soccer and in academics. Many had starting positions on the national championship winning U-17 team last summer.
“I remember watching that game and realizing that multiple players on that squad had weighted GPAs over 4.0. Now I get to look back and say that squad has players heading to the Ivy League and some very fine college programs locally and across the country.”
Edwin Aquino (left) and Tommy Case (right) will stay local and play for Sounders FC Broadcaster Pete Fewing at Seattle University | Lauren Babcock
Following in the footsteps of Homegrown players like Henry Wingo and Handwalla Bwana, four players from the youth ranks will continue their development at the University of Washington. Two of the standouts from the national-championship winning U-17s, center back Blake Malone and right back Enrique Montana, will be taking their talents to powerhouse programs in the ACC.
"I'm very excited, I've always wanted to go to a DI school, but finally making those dreams come true is what's important," said Malone. "Diane has been awesome, she's always been there to help us, especially when we have to miss school. She's always pushed for us to be the best academically, and that's one of the reasons I picked UNC."
With goalkeeper Bobby Harraka and left back Connor Drought off to Harvard and Cornell, respectively, they’ll get the best of both worlds as they continue to compete while receiving first-rate educations.
Two of the players headed to UW, goalkeepers Sam Fowler and Jacob Castro, opted to take a Gap Year in 2018-19, allowing them to crystalize their future pathways as they continued to train with the Sounders.
“Spending a “gap year" between graduating from high school and enrolling in college can be an excellent choice for some students,” added Carney. “Players who have not aged out of the U-19 Academy team can continue to play and develop their skills while they continue conversations with college coaches and remain close to our USL and first team staff. It’s the best way to keep all doors open for one more year while exploring the right “next” move.”
Goalkeeper Bobby Harraka will face off against teammate Connor Drought in the Ivy League in 2019 | Lauren Babcock
In the not-too-distant past, top young talents were forced to choose between pursuing professional careers or receiving a college degree. But through Major League Soccer’s partnership with SNHU and Carney’s efforts in the club’s online school, Vargas and Gonzalez can continue their education while under contract with the Defiance.
“The Class of 2019 also has our first graduates from the online program that I enrolled a select group of players in two years ago,” said Carney. “Marlon and Azriel will graduate from high school in June, and they have both been accepted into the program that Southern New Hampshire University offers to Major League Soccer clubs.”
The full list of players and their NCAA commitments, as well as the number of years they spent in the Academy, is provided below.
Jacob Castro (1 year) – University of Washington
Tommy Case (1 year) – Seattle University
Edwin Aquino (1 year) – Seattle University
Blake Malone (2 years) – University of North Carolina
Bobby Harraka (2 years) – Harvard University
Connor Drought (4 years) – Cornell University
Enrique Montana (4 years) – Clemson University
Gabe Threadgold (5 years) – University of Washington
Khai Brisco (6 years) – University of Washington
Sam Fowler (6 years) – University of Washington