Dating back to its inaugural campaign in 2015, the newly named Tacoma Defiance has been a vehicle for testing the top talents in the youth system. Last season, 17 Sounders Academy players combined for 72 appearances in the USL Championship. While the large Defiance roster means that these figures will certainly decrease in 2019, the club will continue to evaluate how top Academy talents handle the transition to the professional level.
Here are five Sounders Academy players to watch for in the USL Championship this season.
Peter Kingston (Age: 17, Position: Central midfielder)
A cerebral, technical player that thrives in the middle, Kingston will hope to build upon his promising S2 performances in 2018 with more solid showings this season. The metronomic midfielder, who joined the youth system as a member of the inaugural Sounders Discovery Program class in 2014, earned two USL starts last season after playing an integral role for the national championship-winning U-17s. Kingston and Josh Atencio have formed one of the most formidable double-pivots in the USSDA throughout the last two years, making their reunion with Defiance a tantalizing prospect.
Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls: “Peter has a good platform to build on. He made some appearances last year and contributed well. He’s looked good in the preseason, and we know he can earn more minutes this season.”
Blake Malone (Age: 17, Position: Center back)
Another member of the U-17 side that collected the USSDA national championship and Generation adidas Cup double, Malone has already shown that he can mix it up with full-fledged professionals. Across six USL Championship starts in 2018, the young center back recorded nine blocks, 18 interceptions, five tackles and 19 aerial duels won. Malone, 17, will enter the USL campaign in excellent form after participating in preseason with the First Team. An intelligent defender with aerial prowess, Malone can parlay strong performances with the Defiance into a fast start with the University of North Carolina, where he’ll play college soccer in the fall.
MN: “Blake will provide excellent cover in the center back position. He’s just come back from the First Team’s preseason, which was a great experience for him. We blooded him last year, which stands us in good stead for him to contribute more this season.”
Sam Fowler (Age: 18, Position: Goalkeeper)
It may be peculiar to say about an 18-year-old goalkeeper, but Fowler enters the 2019 season as one of the most polished members of the pool. The young shot-stopper has already represented the U.S. U-19s in international tournaments, participated in preseason with the First Team and earned four USL starts. Committed to the University of Washington, the Issaquah native will garner even more experience throughout the spring and summer with the Defiance.
MN: “Sam has been another regular in First Team training throughout this past season, and he’s become a mainstay with the U-19 national team. Sam has made USL appearances in the last two seasons, and we don’t see any reason why he won’t do so again this year.”
Khai Brisco (Age: 18, Position: Right back, left back, center back)
A promising outside back who’s spent six years in the Academy, Brisco will once again compete for time along the Defiance backline. At just 18 years old, the Seattle native has already amassed 19 USL appearances, totaling 1,383 minutes played. Blessed with electric pace, defensive instincts and a high soccer IQ, Brisco will continue his development with the Defiance before suiting up for the University of Washington Huskies in the fall.
MN: “Khai has got great versatility and is a great player to have in the USL. He’s played center back and right back, and can play in more advanced positions should the situation need it.”
Connor Drought (Age: 17, Position: Left back)
Another college-bound player, Drought, 17, will compete for playing time at left back with fellow Academy alum Nick Hinds before heading to Cornell. Along with Kingston, the young defender was a member of the first-ever SDP class and has gone from strength-to-strength throughout his four seasons in the Academy. A two-way force down the flanks, Drought and S2 attacker Marlon Vargas were an unstoppable tandem in the youth system. Coaches often praise the local product for his tactical nous and relentless work rate, both of which should smooth the transition to USL play.
MN: “Connor is another one who went to the First Team’s preseason, both in Orange County and in Tucson, and is a very consistent, capable player. We expect him to compete for time before he goes off to college.”