Sounders FC midfielder Josh Atencio is ready to fight for his place in the First Team.
Atencio, 18, has long been heralded as one of the top prospects to work his way through the revamped Sounders Academy pipeline in recent years. An intelligent, hard-working central midfielder, the Bellevue native is ecstatic about inking a Homegrown deal with the club he grew up supporting.
“It means so much,” said Atencio. “The thought process with signing with S2 in the first place is that I love the club and love everything that the club has done for me.”
Born and raised in Bellevue, Atencio first joined the Academy with the U-15 team. Following an impressive first few months in his age group, where he demonstrated an elite soccer IQ and two-way presence in midfield, he was quickly promoted to the U-17 side.
Across his first three years in the Academy, Atencio played a pivotal role as his Academy teams won the Youdan Trophy, USSDA U-17 national championship and Generation adidas Cup Premier Division, which earned him a professional contract with the club’s USL outfit when he was just 16 years old.
“Josh joined us from Crossfire, a local club, following his U-14 season and now has had the opportunity to represent United States Youth National Teams,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development Henry Brauner. “He’s been an integral part of Tacoma Defiance and has now signed with the First Team, fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming a professional soccer player.”
A lifelong fan of the Sounders, Atencio grew up studiously watching midfielders like Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans and Gonzalo Pineda. His stellar displays in the Academy pipeline caught the attention of the First Team, as he’s been invited to preseason with the Sounders each of the last three seasons.
“Josh is an incredibly consistent, steady and reliable player,” added Brauner. “He controls the tempo of the game. He controls the rhythm. He has the capacity to do some flashy things, but the majority of his play is just consistent throughout. That’s so critical, especially at the highest levels. If you can be a consistent pro, a consistent starter, you can make a career of it.”
Watching him rise through the youth teams and into the USL Championship, where he’s already amassed 2,460 minutes across 26 starts, it’s apparent that he’s molded his game after some of the midfielders he grew up watching and training alongside.
“One of the best compliments you can give Josh is you really notice him when he’s not there,” said Tacoma Defiance Head Coach Chris Little, who also coached Atencio in the Academy. “When he doesn’t play and he’s not in your team, you really notice it and miss him. He does all of the little things that people sometimes miss – the recovery runs, taking steps to block up passing lanes, tracking runners, picking up loose balls, second balls – those little intangibles that really allow teams to be successful.”
In Atencio’s first season as a professional, he led the Defiance in passes with a completion rate of 81.8 percent. Capable of playing as a No. 6 or a center back – he stands at 6’1” and is still growing – his statistics from 2019 reflect his versatility and defensive acumen, with 55 clearances, 15 blocks, 26 interceptions, 32 tackles won, 110 duels won and 32 aerial duels won.
Despite being one of the youngest players on the squad, Atencio played critical positions up the Defiance’s spine, earning the captain’s armband on several occasions.
“Leadership is leadership,” added Brauner. “He just has that innate quality in him. He does a lot of the dirty work. He does all the running, the tackles and sacrifices himself for the team. He always takes ownership and accountability. Even if he plays a perfect pass to a teammate and the ball goes under that player’s foot, he’ll still take the blame for it. That’s just the type of leader that he is.”
Atencio’s steady rise from a talented youngster to USL standout and now a Homegrown Player with the First Team is a reflection of his relentless work ethic and attitude. Based on his last five years within the club, Atencio has the character and innate qualities to break into the team he grew up watching on TV.