Today the Academy; Tomorrow the World

Sunday seems to have become reading day for me, you know, besides the non-blogging stuff that Sunday requires that I call "life maintenance." Out there in the ether of the interwebs one can find a lot of great stories, oftentimes disconnected from the Sounders, or from my intentional writings (Am Abroad later tonight).

But today there is something a bit different. Sounders FC Academy starts its inaugural slate of games. Matt Gaschk strongly wrote about the Academy in a story that deserves your full attention. This February the Sounders can sign their first ever Home Grown Players. Guys like Tristan Bowen, Andy Najar, Bill Hamid and more are out there.

On the U-18 squad, goalkeeper Ryan Herman has been training regularly with Kasey Keller, Terry Boss and Sounders FC goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra.  However, the attack-minded team also features midfielder and 2010 Parade National Player of the Year and Gatorade State Player of the Year Nick Palodichuk, along with Darwin Jones, Troy Peterson and Sean Okoli, formidable talents in their own right.

"The U-18 team is very technical.  They combine well and they’re fun to watch," Sawatzky said.  "They’re explosive and they have the ability to score goals in bunches."

The U-16 side is more of a work in progress, bringing in players from all different backgrounds, including two players from Liberia who moved within the last few years to the US and have earned roles on the team.

That U-18 side went 0-0 yesterday. The U-16s won 2-0. On Sunday the U-16s won 3-1, while the U-18 drew 2-2. Game recaps here.  Sean Okoli had both goals for the Sounder 18s.

These Academies are part of the future of the sport. They aren't going to replace college, but supplement that system in development. Overall, American soccer will be stronger for it. With Major League Soccer now providing a professional league to which players can aspire there may be fewer Jack Wilson's choosing baseball.

What was the decision like when you decided on baseball over soccer?
I cried my eyes out.  It was a decision I had to make knowing the percentages of how tough it would be in soccer if I wanted to be a professional athlete.  I didn’t really expect to make it to the big leagues, but I wanted to continue playing.  As much as I loved soccer, I’d been to ODP camps and I saw how good other guys were and I knew that I was pretty good, but not at that level.  I didn’t think I’d get to that level.  In my last game we ended up tying and I lost it. It was really hard for me.  I still use a lot of soccer stuff in my workouts in the offseason.  It’s great for your footwork.  To me it’s the best game in the world, I love it.

Wilson was at Sounders training on Friday, and the game yesterday prior to playing for the Seattle Mariners.

Having not followed baseball intently for a few years I asked Graham (formerly writing at LookoutLanding, now at WeAintGotNoHistory, and of course here whenever he feels like it) about Wilson as a player.

I think most of Wilson's skill is in quickness. He's not very strong but he's got fine balance, gets a great read on plays, and he reacts very very fast.  I could see that translating to soccer pretty easily. Can't speak to things like ball control/shooting etc.

Now I'm not going to pretend that just because now there's MLS a player with Wilson's great defensive play in baseball and multi-million dollar contract would instead choose to play soccer for a couple hundred thousand. But maybe with a local team (he didn't have one as a child) he could have developed into an even better soccer player.

Maybe the guy not-quite-Wilson good sitting in AAA, decides to go with his first love for the same money, rather than dreaming of that one September call-up.

While the Sounders will be in their off-season with so many changes for 2011 - Expansion Draft, hunt for 3rd DP, figuring out how to keep Fredy Montero, Reallocation Draft (that alternative to Free Agency), the new Reserve League - they will also be training the future of American soccer, at least the future as pertains to the Greater Puget Sound.

Some have called the American Pyramid inverted, but the steps that have been taken in the past two years to create professional training environments for the Youth players are what will help the sport here get better long term in ways that Designated Players can not.

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