The Sounders Academy U-15s and Sounders Discovery Program 2005 and 2006 teams are in San Diego, Calif., this week competing in the Manchester City Cup.
Launched in 2014, SDP invites the top local talents to train twice per week with Sounders youth team coaches. Using the Academy curriculum, it accelerates development and increases the efficacy of scouting before players are invited to join the U-15s on a full-time basis.
“We’re really excited for Man City Cup,” said Sounders Academy U-15 Head Coach Dan Lock. “Both teams have a lot of talent, a lot of potential. This is the first time we’ve seen the 2006’s in a competitive environment – they played in the Truce Tournament 18 months ago, but it’s a very different group now. The 2005’s played in Youdan last year, and it’s good for them because it’s the first event before they go full-time next year.”
Five years into the initiative, SDP has been a resounding success. In fact, several prospects on the Tacoma Defiance as well as numerous U.S. Youth National Team players have come through the program.
The 2005s – which includes Angel Martinez, Josh Hardin, Reed Baker-Whiting and Antonio Herrera, all of whom played up with the U-15s this year – are the first squad to have spent three full years in SDP.
Sounders Academy has a rich history at the Man City Cup, with current pros Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Danny Robles, Ray Serrano and Josh Atencio enjoying breakout performances at the event as they toppled the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s been a great event for us, one that we really enjoyed,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “It’s always wonderful conditions with a variety of teams and different experiences. We use the event to have a look at what we have and what we need to improve, so we’re delighted that we’ve done well there in the past. For many of the boys, it will be their first time playing together for the Sounders.”
One of the pillars of SDP is exposing top talents to the upper echelons of the global game at a younger age. Throughout the past couple of years, local kids have donned the Rave Green jersey and gone toe-to-toe with their age group counterparts from iconic clubs like Manchester United (5-0 win), Liverpool FC (3-1) and Malaga (1-1).
If the objective is to consistently produce players for the Sounders FC First Team, the kids in SDP need to be taken out of their comfort zone through competition with the best youth players in the world.
“That’s why we do these events,” added Lock. “So, when it comes to big moments at the end of the season, they’re not phased by it. And then experiencing something like [USSDA] playoffs, it’s reflected when they get to the highest levels of the game, whether it’s MLS playoffs or youth World Cups or Concacaf Championships, like we’ve just seen with Alfonso and Danny Leyva. That’s whole point of giving them these competitive experiences.”