The Seattle Sounders Academy has become a beacon of young talent over the past five years, producing multiple players that have worked their way up through the ranks and broken through with the club’s First Team.
So, who’s next? This year’s Academy rosters will be rife with young faces brimming with potential, and projecting exactly who will eventually ascend to the MLS side is always difficult. That said, there are many players in the current crop who are already turning heads.
Here are four Sounders Academy players to watch with the Tacoma Defiance during the 2022 MLS NEXT Pros season.
A center back with impressive tools, Hawkins has flashed so much potential early on that he’s already earned a call-up to the U-17 US men’s national team while also spending time training with the Sounders First Team during preseason. He’s now one of the most highly regarded defenders in Seattle’s system and is arguably advanced enough skill-wise to feature for Seattle’s MLS NEXT Pro side Tacoma Defiance. However, still at a phase where consistent playing time is paramount, Hawkins will continue getting games with the Academy for the time being, where he’s established himself as a standout prospect.
“Stuart Hawkins is probably going to start to emerge a little bit,” Sounders Vice President of Player Development Henry Brauner said. “He’s been with the First Team for preseason, he’s been training very well with [Defiance head coach] Wade [Webber], they’re impressed and think he’s somebody that’s going to come along. We don’t rush him ever, but we’ll give him just as much as he needs to keep him hungry and he’s somebody that’s somebody I feel that’s going to come through.
A product of Seattle’s Crossfire Premier Soccer Club where he won a national championship with the 2007 ECNL team, Brunell is another young face that’s impressed since joining Seattle’s Academy with his soccer IQ, technical ability and positive attitude that Webber called “exactly what you want from a young player”. The midfielder is proficient with both feet and possesses immense upside that the club will look to tap into as he develops physically.
“He’s another midfielder that has shown within our environment can grow very, very quickly,” Brauner said of Brunell. “He hasn’t been called into a [youth national team] camp yet, but that will change quickly, I think.”
A product of Federal Way, Washington, Veillard has one of the more unique skillsets you’ll find among this year’s group, with dynamic attacking traits that make him a persistent handful for opposing defenders. His aptitude for the game at such a young age is impressive, with Webber likening his discipline, effort and coachability to Sounders midfielder Obed Vargas, who has broken through from Academy and Defiance product into a First Team role with Seattle to start 2022.
Veillard is a much different player from Vargas, but his similarly strong mentality is exactly what you’re looking for when assessing a player’s all-around make-up and potential. Aside from that, he’ll be fun to watch as he sets his sights on using his physical skills against MLS NEXT Pro defenses this season.
“I think he’s somebody that’s going to get some good opportunities, a young electric attacking player, “ said Webber. “We haven’t really had this profile of player in the development system.”
An exciting prospect at striker, Luande has worked his way up through every level of the Sounders youth system. The Washington Premier alum blends a nose for goal with electric pace and a willingness to stretch the Field with his off-the-ball movement. Luande, who has been a fixture on the U.S. youth national team circuit, spent preseason with the First Team. If he can continue to round out his game and add an element of defending from the front, he will be an intriguing talent to watch with the Defiance this season.
“He’s a 2006 striker that loves to run behind,” said Webber. “There are games where he might not be super involved, but he scores. He has a knack for scoring goals, testing defenders and putting them under pressure.”