The future is bright for Tacoma Defiance midfielder Sota Kitahara.
With the MLS NEXT Pro season getting underway this weekend, the league's website compiled a list of the most exciting players to watch in 2022. Kitahara, 19, cracked the list after impressing throughout his time in Sounders Academy, the USL Championship and during a loan abroad in 2021.
In particular, the article highlights that Kitahara, who can line up across any of the midfield spots and play at outside back, is just the latest product of Sounders Academy's conveyor belt of talent that can dominate the middle of the park.
"Raised in Edmonds, Washington, 30 minutes outside of Seattle, Sota Kitahara could join a list of Sounders Academy midfield prospects that have shined with Tacoma and moved up to the First Team," wrote MLSNEXTPro.com's Ramon Chavez. "Players such as Danny Leyva, Josh Atencio, and most recently Obed Vargas have been able to contribute not only during the MLS season but in international tournaments such as the Concacaf Champions League."
A technical and tough defensive midfielder, Kitahara already boasts a wealth of professional and international experience despite being so young. After joining the club as a 12-year-old in the Sounders Discovery Program, Kitahara went on to star for Sounders Academy teams that competed for silverware at numerous international youth tournaments, including becoming the first MLS side to win the prestigious Generation adidas Cup in 2019 by beating the likes of West Ham, Valencia CF, River Plate and Flamengo. Called up to train with the Sounders First Team each of the last two years, Kitahara has made 27 appearances with the Defiance in the USL Championship and started an additional 15 professional matches while on loan with Pinzgau Saalfelden in Austria last year.
"The 19-year-old traveled overseas in 2021 and received valuable experience playing on loan for Austrian side FC Pinzgau Saalfelden where he made 17 appearances," wrote Gifted on the ball and with the versatility to be deployed as a left or right back, Kitahara will be one to watch in the northwest."