Darren Sawatzky first got involved in a coaching role in youth development back in 1991 while he was a player at the University of Portland. At this point he's layering duties as coach and GM for the Sounders U23 team onto his roles as Seattle Sounders Academy Technical Director and Washington Youth Soccer ODP Director. When asked about adding on that layer, he seemed confident and ready.
"Anyone that knows me knows that I do things at 110 miles an hour," Sawatzky said during a Tuesday phone interview. "In terms of the Academy there's no down time. In terms of coaching, it's an extension of the Academy and it's exciting. We worked the schedule out so that our great staff can cover when I can't be there. The reality is that the machine of the Academy right now is pretty self-sustaining."
South Sound soccer fans can meet Sawatzky, get Sounders U23 prizes and maybe another guest at their viewing party at Doyle's Public House. The team's quest for a stadium is nearing completion; shortly after that is completed they will have information about their ticket packages. At this point the team has a roster of six, all former Sounders Academy players, but don't expect it to be limited to that group.
"The reality is that players that want to play on the Under 23s for the Sounders are players aspiring to play at the next level. Yes, we want the very best Academy players that come up through our system, but we're also looking for guys that have aspirations for playing for FC one day. We may have people involved in this team that haven't played for Sounders yet, but will very much be on the radar for the full team."
The current roster features four players with United States Youth National team experience (Jones, Yedlin, Palidochuk, Okoli), as well as Jamael Cox (who trialed in Europe) and Troy Peterson (8th best in the Southern Conference at TopDrawerSoccer as a Freshman). The eventual roster will be composed of primarily developmental players, but the team will look to a few over-age players (as allowed in the PDL) in order to win as many games as they can.
"What we're looking at doing is to fill that area between the youth and the professional club with guys that have the potential to get there. For the most part that fits in the 18-22 year old age group. We'll be playing against other teams that pay their players and don't necessarily have an MLS team that they're aspiring to so it's a little bit different. We have a more developmental base than some others, but nobody that's involved in sports ever plays to lose. Anybody that says that should quit and do something else."
When Sawatzky talks about development, he is not talking just about on the field soccer players. Like the Sounders FC, the U23s are looking at ways for the players to connect to their community. In what has become a regular phrase from Sawatzky, he again points out that his focus is on good people that became good players.
"We're in the business of developing people, not soccer players. The most driven players are going to come with us because of the level, but you're going to spend time on the person before you can do anything with the soccer. If you don't, the soccer is never going to happen and you won't be sending good people out into the community. We want to make sure that our kids that come out of the Academy program are people that are respected people out there in the community."