The Sounders Ecology

Osvaldo Alonso is just one of many Seattle Sounders who have come to the team via the lower leagues of North American soccer. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Sounders are one of a handful of teams using their connections with clubs and colleges around the country to develop the next generation of players. And I feel pretty confident in saying there is no club that has the breadth of connections as the Seattle Sounders.

Recently I’ve been thinking about the relationship of these independent clubs and colleges through and ecological metaphor. Similar to an ecology system each team and player is operating based on their unique needs sometimes in direct conflict with one another (for example when the Kitsap Pumas played the Sounders in an early round of the U.S. Open Cup). However, in coming together for their own mutual benefit, they are evolving into something greater than the sum of its parts.

I don’t want to stretch the metaphor too far, but I think we may be seeing the slow evolution of a much more rich and varied system for player development in the United States, and this preseason has really put the focus on these relationships. The biggest news has been the transformation of the Tacoma Tide into the new Sounders U-23 team. Following that has been the success in camp and around the league of Sounders who received valuable playing time over the last three years in the many clubs and colleges associated with the Sounders. The recent signings of Alex Caskey and Andy Rose point to the early successes of this developing ecology.

After the break I take a look at six clubs and colleges that have been closely tied to the Sounders.

Seattle Sounders U-23 (Formerly the Tacoma Tide)

League: PDL (Fourth Tier of the US Soccer Pyramid)
Former Players: Nikolas Besagno (USL), John Fishbaugher (USL), Gregory Howes (A-League/USL), Ciaran O'Brien (USL), Leighton O'Brien (A-League/USL/SSW Coach), Adam West (USL)
Current Players: Jamael Cox (SSA), Darwin Jones (SSA), Sean Okoli (SSA), Nick Palodichuk (SSA), Troy Peterson (SSA), DeAndre Yedlin (SSA)
History: The Tacoma Tide formed hastily in 2006 after the termination of the Spokane Shadow team after their artificial pitch was deemed unsafe for play. They made the conference finals in 2008.

The team formerly known as the Tacoma Tide has really tied their fortunes to the good ship SSFC this off-season. While not under the ownership of the Sounders they have adopted the Sounders brand and colors. They will be coached by Darren Sawatzky, who will also remain as Sounders Academy Technical Director, and will field a team composed primarily of Sounders Academy alumni who have gone onto college.

The deal is a win-win-win for all the parties involved. The former Tacoma Tide get access to the most powerful soccer brand in the Pacific Northwest, a steady pipeline of the Puget Sound’s best amateur players and access to world class coaching talent. The Seattle Sounders are able to get steady playing time for their Academy alumni and can keep a close eye on them during the summer months. Finally, the players are able to get valuable playing time and stay in the eye of the Sounders while remaining eligible for NCAA play.

Kitsap Pumas

League: PDL Pro (Fourth Tier of the US Soccer Pyramid)
Former Players: Jason Cascio (USL), John Fishbaugher (USL), Bryan Meredith (SSFC), Jamel Wallace (Draftee)
Current Players: Nikolas Besagno (USL), Tye Perdido (Invitee)
History: The Kitsap Pumas formed in 2008. They are the reigning PDL champions and have made the conference finals in their other two seasons in the PDL.

The Kitsap Pumas are another PDL team in the Puget Sound and were coached last year by Seattle Sounders TV personality Peter Fewing. However, unlike the Sounders U23, the Pumas are one of five PDL Pro teams. PDL Pro teams can pay players who meet the age and eligibility criteria of the PDL for their services. However, on the flip side, they can’t have NCAA players on their roster.

The Kitsap Pumas as a PDL Pro team provide a good landing spot for drafted players and trialists who aren’t able to land a spot on the senior team. They can stay close the Sounders, receive a modest sum for their services and wait for an opportunity. This was exactly what happened for Bryan Meredith who used a strong PDL season to land a spot on the Sounders as a reserve keeper.

Charleston Battery

League: USL Pro (Third Tier of the US Soccer Pyramid)
Former Players: Osvaldo Alonso (SSFC), Alex Caskey (SSFC), Dusty Hudock (A-League), Lamar Neagle (SSFC),
Current Players: Amadou Sanyang (SSFC) (Soon to be transferred)
History: 2003 USL A-League champions and 2010 champions of the USL second division.

Don’t let the Battery’s new status in the third tier of the US Soccer Pyramid fool you. They are one of the best run clubs remaining in lower division American soccer. Their movement down to the third tier is a powerful statement on the dysfunction that is currently reigning in North American Soccer League (NASL). They have their own privately funded stadium and a solid group of supporters that provide valuable stability in the shaky world of lower division soccer.

Both the Seattle Sounders and the Battery have benefited from growing ties between the two clubs. The Sounders have found a good lower division club for players to get valuable playing time. The Battery have clearly benefited from the services of players like Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey. The likely transfer of Amadou Sanyang to the Battery continues that trend. Sanyang will get the playing time he needs to develop while the Battery get a good player to fill the hole left in the line-up by the depature of Alex Caskey.

University of Washington

Conference: PAC-12
Former Players: Abdul Aman (Draftee), Brandon Prideaux (A-League/UW Assistant Coach)
Current Players: Dom Dismuke (SSA), Michael Gallagher (SSA), Ian Lange (SSA) and Darwin Jones (SSA/Invitee), Drew White (SSA)
History: The Huskies haven’t been a powerhouse in college soccer although they have developed a few players that have had successful professional careers including George John and Hope Solo.

Last season the University of Washington men’s soccer program took a big step forward with the hiring of head coach Jaime Clark. Clark is a young coach who is seen by some as a rising star in collegiate soccer with short, but successful head coaching stints at Harvard and Creighton University. Coach Clark aims to turn the Huskies into a model for developing young talent and has drawn recruited heavily among the Sounders Academy for the upcoming season.

The Huskies have the resources, the facilities and the connections to become a premier college soccer program. Jaime Clark seems to have both the talent and the ambition to turn the Huskies into program that can challenge UCLA as the dominant team in the PAC-12. Recruiting will be vital to his success and he's already off to a good start for the season.

Seattle University

Conference: Mountain Pacific Sports Federation
Former Players: Sean Morris (Draftee)
Current Players: Joe Mancini (SSA), Justin Solomon (SSA), Austin Sweeney (SSA)
History: The Seattle University has only recently returned to NCAA Division I sports. Previously they have won titles in the NAIA and NCAA Division II respectively.

Seattle University has brought back an old hand to help guide their men’s soccer team. Pete Fewing coached the Redhawks from 1988 to 2006 to great success. The 2011 roster has a collection of local talent as well talent from around Washington and Oregon. I expect that talent on the team to improve now that Pete Fewing is back in the fold. His close connections to the soccer community in the Seattle area will mean better recruits including Sounders Academy alumni. Pete Fewing has demonstrated recently with the Kitsap Pumas that he knows how to coach a championship caliber team.

However, there are a couple outside factors that could curb a renaissance for the Red Hawks. First, the Mountain Pacific Sports Conference is far past its best days as a college soccer conference. Second, the administration’s focus on Division I college sports is relatively recent and may wane over time. Still, as Caleb Porter has shown at Akron, you can never count out a school when they have the right coach. Regardless, academy players who choose to play for Seattle University will receive a top-notch education.

UCLA

Conference: PAC-12
Former Players: David Estrada (SSFC), Chris Henderson (SSFC Technical Director), Patrick Ianni (SSFC), Andy Rose (SSFC), Kurt Schmid (SSFC Assistant Coach), Sigi Schmid (SSFC Coach), Pete Vagenas (SSFC)
Current Players: None
History: The Bruins are four time national champions and went undefeated in conference play last season. UCLA leads all schools in the country with a total of 61 all-time MLS players.

The UCLA Bruins are probably the most consistently successful college soccer program on the West Coast. Much of the foundation for their success was set by a young coach and former Bruin by the name of Sigi Schmid. During the 1980s and 1990s he led the team to three championships and was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation coach of the year three times running. Sigi Schmid kept his ties to UCLA and Southern California during his tenure as an MLS coach and U.S. U-20 coach. In his recent role as head coach of the Sounders he has relied less heavily on Southern California as a recruiting ground although he’ll go against conventional wisdom if the right Bruin is available on draft day (see also David Estrada).


Key: A-League (Seattle Sounders A-League Team), Draft (MLS Super or Supplemental Draftee), SSA (Seattle Sounders Academy), Invitee (Unsigned Camp Invitee), SSW (Seattle Sounders Women), SSFC (Seattle Sounders MLS team), USL (Seattle Sounders USL team)

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