The importance of the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday extends beyond the Cascadia rivalry.
“It was a good game and an important win for the team,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “Obviously, the team is missing lots of players and this gave great opportunity to the 3 players. It’s then up to them to make the most of their chance, which they did.”
In the short-term, the dramatic win brought the Sounders within two points of the LA Galaxy for second place in the Western Conference. In the long-term, it was an important breakthrough for the club’s commitment to a holistic, world-class player pathway from the youth system all the way through to the First Team.
Daniel Leyva vs Vancouver— USMNT Videos (@USMNTvideos) June 30, 2019
Just 16 years old and did very well in his first MLS start. pic.twitter.com/o9H8RkuG3O
“Any time that young players work through the pathway at the club, going from the Academy to the Defiance to the First Team, that shows all the young players that there’s opportunities,” said Defiance Head Coach and Academy Director of Coaching Chris Little. “And that we have a First Team coach and staff that are willing to play young players. It sets a precedent.
“For us, it’s easier to pass the message onto the players,” continued Little. “Who’s next? Who’s going to be the next guy that wants to earn an opportunity?”
Every player that joins the Academy, starting at the U-12 Sounders Discovery Program level, holds ambitions of one day pulling on the iconic Rave Green jersey and playing matches at CenturyLink Field.
For the next generation of young prospects to see the likes of Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez not only be given opportunities, but to capitalize on them with strong performances, makes that dream feel more tangible.
Sounders Homegrown players Leyva, Ocampo-Chavez and Handwalla Bwana celebrate Leerdam's goal at CenturyLink Field | Lindsey Wasson
“I’m proud [of Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez] because I grew up playing with them in the Academy and then we all signed with the Defiance,” said 17-year-old Defiance winger Ray Serrano. “Seeing them play inspires all of us Defiance players to move up the system to the First Team.”
When players make their way up the pipeline and get opportunities in MLS, they have to make the most of their chances. On Saturday, the trio of Dhillon, Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez did just that.
But the most exciting aspect of Saturday’s youth movement is that it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“The Academy has a lot of talent,” said Serrano. “I feel like in a couple of years from now there are going to be a lot of Academy players signing with the Defiance or even the First Team. It’s just a process.”
On the Defiance alone, there nine more players under contract that made their way up from the youth system. When you consider the number of elite young players in the 2002-05 age groups currently developing in the Academy, there’s no doubt that the future of the club is extremely bright.