Jamael Cox, DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Kovar could be reunited in Rave Green on the Sounders U-23 PDL team. (Photo courtesy Chris Coulter / SoundersPhotos)
Asked directly what excites him most about his new opportunity to be the Coach of the Seattle Sounders U-23 side Darren Sawatzky gives two answers. The first isn't a surprise. As the Technical Director of the Sounders Academy his passion for player and personal development is a strong fit in this new intermediary step between Academy and Pro. The second item was simple "I like to win things."
So does his new ownership group. The Sounders U-23 side is not owned, nor operated by the Sounders. Though they will be in Sounders kits, receive some marketing cache from the name and are obviously coached by some one who has significant roles with both organizations the ownership of the former Tacoma Tide is not solely focused on helping the MLS side. Sawatzky points out that while the players may primarily be Academy Alumni, they will not solely be so.
This club is owned by different owners than Sounders FC and they obviously want to win. We're allowed eight over age players and we may or may not use those depending on what makes sense. There's players calling me from all over the place and we'll make decisions based on what makes the most sense.
Yes, Alumni like Darwin Jones, who is on track to be a U23, or Jamael Cox, depending on his European trials, will be on the squad. Former members of the original U18 side that went off east like Nick Palodichuk, Deandre Yedlin, Sean Okoli and Troy Peterson are likely to return to wear the Rave Green as well.
Sawatzky will get to reconnect with players that he both coached and managed prior to the creation of the Sounders Academy. That's part of the appeal of this new role.
The thing I like the most about coaching is watching people develop - not just as players, but as people. I'm really excited to see how these kids have grown after they went off to school and now coming back into our program again.
He'll get that opportunity through the Academy talents who the two organizations bring into the Pierce County based PDL side. That physical proximity will help the First Team's scouting and coaching staff see these players up close.
Most of those kids will be college age kids that will play in the summertime. It will be a balance of our Academy guys that we continue to track and develop; it will be players at the top of the college game that have aspirations of moving on after college. It allows our first team to see some players that maybe they wouldn't get to see as much. Having an Under 23 team gives them that opportunity.
For those previously mentioned college players without a previous link to Seattle, and even the over age players the proximity can work to their benefit. That's part of why they are already calling him and showing interest. Sawatzky notes the appeal of the Sounders name.
The reality is that any time you can be attached to a pro club at any level these Academy kids have a marvelous opportunity. They are involved in a professional club day in and day out which means if they do well they have a direct line to playing in front of 40,000 people in front of CenturyLink. The kids that aren't part of our Academy system from around the country, of course they're calling because it's not direct access, but it's pretty close. They get an opportunity to get seen by the First Team coaches here and that could be their ticket to jump to the next level when they are done with college.
This U-23 team in the PDL is not going to be a Reserve side. They will be maintaining college eligibility for their college players, so the likelihood of seeing another Jordan Jennings type friendly appearance is fairly low (he was done with school at the time). This also is not going to be a way to find new Home Grown Player possibilities, though it will help maintain claims as MLS sides are required to continue training players while they are in college.
For diehard fans it will give an opportunity to follow players similar to Sawatzky - you can watch the Academy players progress through the U-16 to U-18 to U-23 and maybe to the First Team, all in Rave Green. For the players and ownership groups it is another opportunity to win trophies, a goal that originates at the ownership level for all of the involved teams.