Last weekend the Sounders U-18 and U-16 Academy teams continued their romp through the Northwest Division of the US Soccer Development Academy. They won three of their four games for the second week in a row and this week it was enough to lock in division championships for both teams.
The U-18s opened the weekend with an away loss to second place Cal Odyssey, which opened the door a little for the California team, but the Sounders went on to win a close game against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday and now have 25 points through 11 games. Odyssey finished their schedule with two wins but topped out at 25 points. So if the Sounders win or tie in their final match this week they take the division on points. But even if they lose, they have a +20 goal differential to Cal Odyssey's +8, so at least a win on tiebreakers is effectively guaranteed.
The U-16s won both of their games this weekend and have a three point lead in the division. Every other Northwest contender has completed their schedule, so the U-16s have locked in the division championship and can coast through their final match this week and prepare for the playoffs.
The Academy playoff structure takes the top two teams from each of 10 divisions as well as 12 wild cards to form a pool of 32 teams. Those teams will be split into 8 groups of 4 and they'll play from June 24-28 at Pizza Hut Park to determine a winner in each group. Those 8 group winners will then move on to Finals Week from July 9-16 in Milwaukee where an overall champion in each age group will be determined.
The Sounders' dominant performances at the Academy level are a testament to the depth the organization has from top to bottom. The senior team has weathered a significant number of early season injuries to remain a competitor in the Western Conference. The inaugural Reserve League team has now won 6 out of 6 matches and look to be in a race with only the San Jose Earthquakes for the West Division. And the Academy teams are on their way to the Sounders' first (but not last) playoff berths in 2011.