Chris Aquino goal celebration ga cup

Chris Aquino is only 16 years old, but he's already earned the stripes of a grizzled veteran on his journey from Sounders Academy prospect to Tacoma Defiance.

A native of Pasco, Washington, Aquino joined the Sounders Discovery Program at age 12, starting his ascent through the club's youth development system. It required plenty of sacrifice, including multi-hour drives from Pasco with his parents to make it to training sessions.

He wound up running with the opportunity, starring at the youth ranks for the Academy, and now officially inking his first professional contract with Tacoma on Wednesday.

"My first thoughts were just happiness and excitement," Aquino told SoundersFC.com following his signing. "That was my dream since I was a little kid, since I started kicking a ball. So, I was just very excited and happy. But it's just a step and I want to keep going."

In Aquino, the Defiance are getting a player who has turned heads as an attacking prospect at the youth level. 

The midfielder/forward was a regular on the scoresheet for Seattle's U-17 side last season, helping lead them to a repeat 2022 Generation Adidas Cup title. His performance for the U-17s also earned him a nod to the first-ever MLS NEXT All-Star Game in July, where he took part in an exhibition match that pitted the top Academy players from around the country in an East vs. West matchup.

"He's always looking to score," said Sounders VP of Player Development Henry Brauner. "He can score different types of goals. We see a variety of passes he can play; we see a variety of goals he can score. He can score the tap-ins and find the right space and find that little crack of light inside the box to score the goal, he can also score a free kick, he can also score from outside the box, he can look to combine with a No. 9 and then hit a first-time shot that freezes the goalie. 

"He's going to take penalty kicks, he's always on the front foot, he's always in a scoring position. His body language, his demeanor always is to the goal, which is sometimes what you see in Raúl [Ruidíaz] as well, so we're happy to now be able to expose Chris more consistently to our first team and Tacoma Defiance and we're excited to have working with [the staff]."

 Aquino's Pasco roots also demonstrate the club's commitment to identifying talented players from all over the state and giving them a chance to prove themselves, Brauner said.

"This now where you're going to get to see these guys where they're proudly representing their community, they're one of the youth soccer players coming from Washington and not just the Seattle metropolitan area," he said. 

"They're coming from all over and it's our responsibility to find the best players and get them into the right environment that they need."

Looking ahead, Aquino said he feels as though his time with the Academy has prepared him well for his jump to the professional ranks, where he joins a Defiance side set to embark on its second season in MLS NEXT Pro.

“Chris has earned his first contract through his hard work and progress at the Academy level,” said Brauner. “As long as he surrounds himself with people who support him and his future, he is going to be a professional for a very long time.”

Coming off a successful campaign under head coach Wade Webber that saw Tacoma finish No. 2 in the Western Conference before bowing out of the playoffs in the Conference Final, Aquino said his focus is now on helping the club accrue silverware in 2023.

"My goals are of course first for the team to win titles, win the Western Conference title, win the MLS NEXT Pro title," said Aquino. "The team always comes first. But I just hope to score goals and assist and help the team in any way that I can."

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