The Seattle Sounders Academy U-17 team has advanced to the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division semifinals, defeating Argentine giants River Plate 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
“I think overall it was a good performance,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “I thought we edged the game and deserved to win. I was pleased that we stuck to playing and building out of the back – although at times it wasn’t perfect – and I think it was a very entertaining, end-to-to end game. It was a wonderful experience for the players.”
Seattle raced out of the gates in the first half, with Ethan Dobbelaere, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Sota Kitahara all generating quality chances inside the first 10 minutes. River Plate started to dictate the tempo for the remainder of the first half, but the Sounders still carved out two high quality chances on the brink of halftime.
The Rave Green dominated proceedings for the entirety of the second half, though River managed to cause some danger in transition. Dobbelaere put the ball in the back of the net in the 57th minute off a feed from Chris Hegardt, but the goal was called back for offside.
Seattle continued to probe the Buenos Aires side’s defense until the end of regulation, with Ocampo-Chavez and Dobbelaere each coming close to finding a winner.
As the three-time champions of GA Cup, River Plate rose to the occasion in extra time and nearly snuck into the semifinals. A long-distance shot took a massive deflection, arrowing menacingly towards the far-post bottom corner, but Lee changed direction to pull off a full-extension recovery save.
The match seemed destined for penalties, but as he’s done all tournament, Ocampo-Chavez scored a crucial goal, securing Seattle’s ticket to the next round in the final minute of extra time. Right back Bryson Hankins found Hegardt in space down the line, and the midfielder slipped a no-look pass for Ocampo-Chavez, who calmly dinked his first-time finish over the onrushing goalkeeper.
Sounders Academy regularly enters its teams into competitions where they face off against elite international sides, as it’s perhaps the most effective method of accelerating development. Moreover, it provides the young Sounders with immensely valuable experiences as they pursue professional careers.
So, while a 1-0 win over River Plate is certainly a marquee result in a vacuum, it’s the product of years of youth programming and an intentional approach to developing first team players.
“They’ve been in these situations before, and that’s the point,” said Nicholls. “We hope that they’ll be in these situations in the playoffs with the First Team, or Champions League with the First Team, and that’s what we’re doing this for. That’s why we’re here.”
Dobbelaere races past a River Plate defender | Devin Lamoreaux
River sent a barrage of pressure in the dying minutes, but the young Sounders held tough to solidify their spot in the next round, leaving Seattle as the only remaining MLS side.
You can live-stream the semifinal against English Premier League side West Ham United, which will be played at 1:30 p.m. PT at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Thursday, here.