While he was training with the Tacoma Defiance during preseason, Seattle Sounders Academy midfielder Sota Kitahara stated that the U-17s had one objective ahead of the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division: win the whole thing.
When the Rave Green take the pitch at Toyota Stadium on Saturday (4 p.m. PT, live-stream here), they’ll have a chance to do just that. Seattle became the first MLS Academy to ever reach the GA Champions Division Final.
On Thursday, the young Sounders found themselves facing storied English Premier League club West Ham United in the GA Cup Champions Division semifinal, having defeated Argentine powerhouse River Plate 1-0 in the previous round. In a statement of intent, Seattle raced out to 1-0 lead in the 6th minute, when center back Elias Katsaros nodded Danny Leyva’s free kick across goal into the path of Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, who headed home the first goal.
West Ham gave Seattle a bit of a scare when star player Kai Corbett put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was called back for offside. Ocampo-Chavez, who had scored the winning goals against River Plate, the Montreal Impact and reigning champions Flamengo, doubled Seattle’s advantage in the 16th minute. Tacoma Defiance midfielder Ray Serrano latched onto a through ball from Kitahara and, twisting away from two defenders, whipped in a dangerous cross that Ocampo-Chavez struck past the Hammers’ goalkeeper.
Katsaros made it 3-0 in the 22nd minute with a powerful header off of Leyva’s corner kick before Ocampo-Chavez completed his hat trick with a left-footed blast from outside the box.
The two sides traded blows after the break, though Seattle controlled the tempo and carved out the better chances. After winning the 2017-18 GA Cup Premier Division last season, they’ll have a chance to repeat as champions, this time in the higher bracket, on Saturday when they take on Spain’s Valencia CF.
It would be quicker to copy and paste the entire U-17s lineup here, but several players deserve a special mention. Kitahara, a central midfielder, lined up at right back for the suspended Bryson Hankins. Up against West Ham’s most dangerous attacker, the Seattle United alum was dominant defensively and comfortable in possession, as he helped keep a clean sheet. Defiance midfielder Danny Robles pulled the strings in the middle, showcasing his quality on the ball. Alex Villanueva was a two-way force at left back, and goalkeeper Conrad Lee recorded his fourth clean sheet of the tournament.
Sticking to their Identity
The Academy coaching staff firmly believes that if a player is performing well in his own age group, he needs to be tested at a higher level. Protecting a lead against one of the EPL’s best youth academies, the Sounders brought on Oscar Rincon (2004), who has 19 goals and 12 assists in 23 matches for the U-15s, and Reed Baker-Whiting (2005), a versatile midfielder from Seattle United. Undaunted by the occasion, both players performed well and created quality chances.
Ocampo-Chavez now has six goals in five games, making him the favorite to collect the Golden Boot. He has scored six of the Sounders’ seven goals this tournament.