Sounders Academy is travelling all over the world this summer, with teams competing at tournaments in Mexico, South Korea and England.
This week, a hybrid roster consisting of players from the 2000-04 birth years is in Zurich, Switzerland, for the 81st Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup, an annual tournament that pits the top talent developers on the planet against one another.
Seattle’s roster includes Academy standouts Blake Malone, Leo Burney, Sam Fowler, Peter Kingston, Connor Drought, Ethan Dobbelaere, Chris Hegardt, Conrad Lee, Austin Brummett and Sota Kitahara. Adding a bit of attacking fire power to the group, Tacoma Defiance players Ray Serrano, Alec Diaz and Marlon Vargas will also make the trip.
“We want to reward the players who’ve done well throughout their time in the Academy,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “For some of the boys, it will be their first international tournament, but for others it will be their fourth or fifth. It’s a great opportunity to compete against some big clubs in a different country. We’re really grateful for the invitation. It’s an honor.”
Clubs from seven countries will be present in Zurich, but the Sounders are the sole representative from North or Central America. With renowned soccer institutions like Dinamo Zigrab, SL Benfica, Boca Juniors and Sevilla FC in attendance, Seattle’s invitation to the tournament is the latest sign of the club’s burgeoning reputation as one of the fastest rising academies in the world.
Exposure is one of the pillars of Sounders Academy. The club believes that exposing its top talents to the highest levels of competition around the world both accelerates development and eases the transition to First Team soccer.
This notion extends beyond the pitch, as experiencing new cultures and traveling around the world provides the young Sounders with new insights that help them grow as people.
“When we look at the cast of characters that are making this trip, they’ve been all over the world with the Sounders,” said Nicholls. “For example, [U-19 center back] Leo Burney has competed in Iceland, Japan, France, England and now he’s off to Zurich.”
The Sounders will open the tournament on Thursday with a match against Greek side PAOK Soloniki before taking on Swiss super-club FC Basel – a team Seattle has defeated twice at the Youdan Trophy – and FC Zurich. The Rave Green will wrap up group play against perennial Portuguese powerhouse SL Benfica, which boasts English Premier League stars like Ederson, Victor Lindelof and Bernando Silva among its alumni.
The full schedule for the FIFA Youth Cup can be found here.