The Seattle Sounders’ status as reigning MLS Cup Champions isn’t the only change this preseason.
Boasting a player development system filled with talented youngsters, the Sounders have once again invited over a dozen prospects to join the First Team as they prepare for Concacaf Champions League and the 2020 MLS regular season. This year, the Academy and Defiance players weren’t just brought along for the experience. With open spots on the roster, the club is hopeful that a couple of them can capitalize on the increased exposure, earning a contract on the merits of their performances.
“For the younger guys, they just need to take their opportunity,” said right back Kelvin Leerdam, who enters is fourth MLS campaign with the Rave Green. “Sometimes you only get one chance. Sometimes it’s less than a chance, and you have to grab it with both hands.
“If we can help you, we’ll help you. But in the end, it’s everybody for himself first to try and make it into the First Team… In the end, you need to fight and show the coaches what you have. I think that’s the mindset you’ve got to have.”
But that’s all it is: an opportunity. They have to prove day-in, day-out that they can couple their obvious talent with consistent hard work and a willingness to learn.
Last week, Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey made it clear that the club is hopeful a couple of young players can follow in the footsteps of the Homegrowns who signed – and made meaningful MLS contributions – last season.
“It’s up to them,” said Lagerwey. “They have to come prove it against the men. But Danny Leyva did last year, there’s no reason somebody can’t do it again.”
As a club that holds aspirations of winning trophies every season, the staff understandably demands high standards of its players. Those expectation apply to everyone, no matter their age, when they take the pitch to train with the First Team.
Tacoma Defiance winger Ray Serrano, 17, takes on Gustav Svensson in training | Josh Lavallee
“The prerequisites are that they have to work hard, and they have to work smart,” Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said after a training session in Long Beach, Calif. on Sunday. “If they do that, they’ll be here. If they don’t, we’ll ship them back home to Seattle.”
Beyond the necessary work ethic and consistency, the players need to demonstrate they have those intangible qualities that all professionals possess, especially an intrinsic desire to fight for their place.
“We know all of these kids, and they are here because we think they are all good,” said Assistant Coach Gonzalo Pineda. “It’s just [about] them being ready to go mentally to be next to Nicolás Lodeiro, to be next to Raúl [Ruidíaz]. Don’t be shy to push [Lodeiro] a little bit, to push Gustav [Svensson], to push the big names that we have.
“So, it’s a bit more about how [the young players] interact with them and how you see that they are mature enough to deal with the First Team environment.”
It’s no secret that the Sounders are sitting on one of the most talent-rich youth systems in the country. Each of the young prospects in preseason camp with the First Team has exhibited the necessary ability to cut it at the MLS level.
But if they want to follow in the footsteps of the Homegrowns who’ve already traversed the club’s professional pathway, they’ll have to earn it.