Wednesday night’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes featured a couple of special moments for the future of the club.
As part of the opening ceremonies for the Week 9 fixture, the club honored the U-17 Sounders Academy team that became the first MLS team to ever win the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division.
Each player on the squad walked down the red carpet at midfield, with his picture and name scrawled across the big screen, as he clapped and waved to the supporters in the stands. Afterwards, players walked to the Brougham End, where team captain and youngest signing in club history Danny Leyva hoisted the trophy in front of the Emerald City Supporters, a triumphant “thank you” to the fans for whom they hope to one day play for.
The young Sounders then led the stadium in “Scarves Up” just prior to kickoff.
Many of the players have been in the Sounders youth system for several years. As fans of the club themselves, it was a rare opportunity to experience what it would be like to be a First Team player walking onto the pitch at CenturyLink Field.
“It was wonderful,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “It was a really nice touch from everyone at the club. I could see on the players’ faces that they loved every minute of it. I thought it was a wonderful moment when they came down the red carpet and were individually introduced like that.”
Soccer is a unique in the professional sports landscape. In basketball, baseball and football, professional players have very little agency in where they play. A kid from Los Angeles can grow up dreaming of playing the Lakers, but get drafted by another franchise and never have the chance to represent his hometown team.
Soccer is different. Between the Academy and Tacoma Defiance, a kid from Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood can start playing in the Sounders system at the age of 11, work his way up the pipeline and, one day, pull on the Rave Green jersey to play an MLS match at CenturyLink Field.
It’s not a single team. It’s a club.
The U-17s celebrate their GA Cup victory with Sounders supporters | Charis Wilson
“[It] feels like we’re all a big family coming together, from the First Team to the Academy,” said Defiance winger Ray Serrano, who grew up in Moses Lake, Wash., with a Clint Dempsey poster on his bedroom wall. “It does motivate us a lot because we obviously want to be in the First Team, so we get a little taste of what it’s like being around the fans.”
Seattle native and Seattle United alum Ethan Dobbelaere, who put in several star-turn performances as the Sounders toppled international powerhouses like Valencia CF, Flamengo, River Plate and West Ham at GA Cup, echoed that sentiment.
“It was just an amazing experience,” he said. “The support was just overwhelming.”
Ultimately, Sounders Academy exists to develop players for the First Team. With guys like Jordan Morris, DeAndre Yedlin and Handwalla Bwana coming through the youth system and breaking into the squad, moments like Wednesday night intrinsically motivate the young Academy players to work even harder so that they can follow in their footsteps.
“They all have the aspiration to walk on the field at CenturyLink,” said Nicholls. “While last night wasn’t playing for the First Team, it was a little sample of what that might be like. When you grow up supporting a team, most players dream about that. The players [recruited from outside of Seattle] have the same passion and joined the club to be part of moments like that.”