Raúl Albiol, David Silva, Jordi Alba, Paco Alcácer, Isco, Zico, Adriano, Lucas Paqueta and Vinícius Júnior – these are just some of the players developed by clubs that Sounders Academy will face in the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division, which will take place at the Toyota Soccer Center in Frisco, Texas beginning on Saturday.
The young Sounders qualified for the top tier for the first time in club history this season – they will be in Group D alongside the Montreal Impact, Valencia CF (SPA) and Flamengo (BRA) – though the Rave Green won the 2017-18 Premier Division title.
“We have a very talented group for GA Cup,” said Sounders FC Director Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “It was an important challenge for us to make the top bracket; we’ve come very close in recent years. The whole point of the investment we’ve put into development is to test ourselves against the world’s best.”
Billed as the preeminent youth tournament for the future stars of MLS and the international game, the GA Cup pits the top MLS U-17 academy teams against some of the beautiful game’s most storied institutions. The field for this year’s Champions Division includes elite clubs like Olympique Lyon (FRA), Dinamo Zagreb (CRO), West Ham United (ENG), Peñarol (URU) and River Plate (ARG).
“We really hope our experience in knockout tournaments and international events continues to help us,” said Nicholls. “We did those events deliberately. If these players want to contribute in MLS, we all know that the most important time of the year is the playoffs. So, as much as we can get these guys into meaningful matches where there’s something on the line, it’s very important for their development.”
Exposing top talents to the highest levels of competition on a global scale is a pillar of Sounders Academy’s approach to player development. With so many future stars of the world game attending GA Cup, the club is bringing along a squad with ambitions of winning the Champions Division.
Tacoma Defiance and U.S. Youth National Team players like Ray Serrano, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Josh Atencio and Danny Robles will be linking up with the U-17s, as well as recent First Team signee Danny Leyva.
🏆🏆🏆— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) April 3, 2018
Watch the highlights of Sounders FC U-17's winning the Generation adidas Cup final (Premier Division)! pic.twitter.com/alDMZcaTe9
All told, the Sounders roster for GA Cup includes nine players who have received USYNT call-ups in the past year, combining for 818 minutes in the 2019 USL Championship.
“The professional experience only helps the boys,” said Nicholls. “We always notice a difference when they come back from training with the First Team or playing matches with the Defiance, in terms of their speed of play and confidence.”
The U-17 Concacaf Championships, which serve as the U-17 World Cup qualifying event, take place in May, so GA Cup will provide a platform for Seattle’s bevy of talented prospects to impress Head Coach Raphael Wicky.
Atencio, 17, has completed 87% of his 146 pass attempts for the Defiance this season | Charis Wilson
“Danny and Alfonso were recently with the U-17s,” added Nicholls. “It’s a terrific opportunity for the U.S. staff to get to know all the players at the event, and we think we have some vey strong contenders. It’s a big opportunity for the players, the team and the club to benchmark themselves against the rest of the world.”
You can find the full schedule for the GA Champions Division here.
The future is now
Facing off against some of the elite U-17 players on the planet, Sounders are bringing along two of the top performers from the U-15s. Reed Baker-Whiting, a 2005, has excelled recently in various midfield roles, while forward Oscar Rincon, a 2004, has bagged 14 goals and 12 assists from 21 appearances.
Ones to watch
“Sota Kitahara is a player we all regard highly,” said Nicholls. “We’re really looking forward to his contributions in midfield. He covers a lot of ground, has a lot of technical ability and connects the play well. Ethan Dobbelaere is another player we think has high potential. He’s got wonderful technique with both feet, has a change of pace and is an intelligent player.”