Typically, wild fluctuations of highs and lows scar inaugural seasons as clubs adjust to the novelty of the Development Academy. The Seattle Sounders Academy apparently did not get the memo about the lows.
On Saturday, the Sounders U18 team surgically dismantled Real So Cal, 5-0, in a Development Academy non-conference clash. It marked an impressive feat considering Real So Cal finished third at the Development Academy National Championships last season. (However, this star-depleted Real So Cal team may not possess the same quality as the team from last year.)
Prior to the game, Sounders Academy technical director Darren Sawatzky talked with Goal.com about the club’s first season, the professional coaching staff, and a future Home Grown Player joining the Rave Green.
"Being only six months into it, it has been a good run so far," Sawatzky said of the first season. "We are in first in both the [under-]16 and [under-]18 divisions. More importantly, we are seeing development in the players."
One of the things that challenges most teams joining the Development Academy is getting the players adjusted to the travel. Saturday marked the fourth trip to California this season for the Sounders Academy.
Sawatzky shrugged it off.
"The weather is nice," he said, smiling. "The kids love avoiding the rain."
His casual nature is reflected throughout the coaching staff. Not once during Saturday’s game did any of the five coaches stand and yell at the players, even during a nervous opening few minutes.
The professionalism of the staff comes from playing in various pro leagues for years. Sawatzky spent time with Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution in MLS over the span of a 10-year career. Head Academy coach Dick McCormick had a 14-year professional career, mostly in the indoor leagues but also with the USL Sounders.
The tactical acumen and professional experience of the coaches is evident in the quality of play of the Sounders. The ball zips around the field with pace as the free-flowing attack challenges opposing defenses.
Even with the very accomplished coaching staff, the Sounders Academy have another advantage: the luxury of training with and scrimmaging against the full team.
"Some of the older players are getting opportunities with the first team, being part of a professional club," Sawatzky pointed out. "One of the things we have to do in the United States is get the younger talented players playing and training with men. If you want to get ready to play with professionals, you've got to get them there as soon as they are ready to delve into that opportunity."
That developmental bonus will likely help yield Seattle's first Home Grown signing.
"It could happen any day now," Sawatzky said of Seattle signing its first Home Grown Player.
General manager Adrian Hanauer was more hesitant about the timing of a potential Home Grown signing during a telephone interview with Goal.com Sunday.
"It could be any day now or it could be a year from now," he said. "There is nothing imminent at this moment."
A source familiar with the situation told Goal.com that forward Sean Okoli has been in negotiations to become the first Home Grown signing for Seattle.
Hanauer gave no comment when asked about Okoli signing the professional deal in the coming weeks.
Okoli, a member of the U.S. U18 squad, has eight goals in 13 academy games this season. The 17-year-old did not find the back of the net on Saturday but did provide a sublime assist to fellow forward Darwin Jones before being substituted at halftime.
On Monday, Okoli was invited to pre-season training camp with the full team in Arizona.
Additionally, both Hanauer and Sawatzky spoke about the full team monitoring multiple players from the U18 squad. Given the abundance of talent on the team, it should not surprise many that technical director Chris Henderson and head coach Sigi Schmid are keeping an eye on numerous players.
Sawatzky said: "There are definitely kids on our team that are as good as players who are getting signed around the league."
- Nicholas Palodichuk, a member of the Sounders Academy, has already enrolled at Duke University. Even though he only played half a season with the Sounders Academy, Sawatzky believes Palodichuk will be considered a Home Grown Player, saying, "We have definitely put the training time in with him." The club is still awaiting official word from MLS.
- The Sounders U18 team finished the weekend with a draw against Cosmos Academy West, 1-1. The U16 team had two wins over the weekend, 2-0 over Real So Cal and 3-1 over Cosmos Academy West, to extend its unbeaten streak to 13 games.
- There are a handful of professional prospects on the Academy, including right back DeAndre Yedlin. Verbally committed to Akron University, Yedlin is one of the best outside backs in the Development Academy. His experience training with the full team is evident in his subtle craftiness on the field.
- A few others also showed glimpses of future professional talent. Troy Peterson, Aaron Kovar, and Darwin Jones shined brighter than the rest on Saturday. Peterson and Kovar are both midfielders. The former is a physically imposing defensive mid who is good in the air. Kovar is a strong left winger, capable on the dribble with an excellent cross.
Jones is the speedy complement to Okoli up front for the Sounders. He was the star of the show on Saturday with two goals. The 18-year-old has the speed for the next level and a nose for goal.
- While the options are aplenty for the Sounders full team, there is one common theme from all the staff. Both Sawatzky and Hanauer reiterated: "When we decide to sign a (Home Grown) Player, it will be the right time for the club and player."
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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