Last weekend Sounders Nation was understandably focused on the first Cascadia match of the season, but the Sounders were actually involved in five other matches over the weekend — our first Reserve League match (also against Portland) and four Academy games.
The Academy season is back to full action after the light winter schedule. This weekend the teams hosted Californian clubs Pateadores and Strikers FC. I was at the first match of the weekend on Saturday morning, when the U18s took on Pateadores. It was a sloppy match in the driving wind and rain and there were plenty of errors on both sides. Seattle scored on a corner kick early with Jordan Morris getting the final touch, then surrendered an equalizer on a bad backpass into the box that was picked off, leaving keeper Connor Adkisson stranded. In the second half, the weather lightened up and Seattle again scored on a corner and then started feasting on an opponent trying to push for an equalizer. The counterattacks eventually paid off when Morris scored another on a carbon copy of the Eddie Johnson goal against Tigres, cutting to the endline and around his defender for a tight angle shot on goal. It was such a sweet shot he hurt his back on it and was subbed out shortly afterwards (though he turned out to be fine). Then there was another goal from sub Kenny Sweet, leading to the final 4-1 scoreline.
One thing you can only appreciate in person is Morris' ability. He doesn't look like a speedster — he's built more like a lion than a cheetah — but he absolutely has the speed to blow by defenders and his ball skills and finishing are solid. Which is why he's one of the leading scorers in the country at the U18 level and why he's going to Stanford next season on a soccer scholarship. If you're interested in keeping an eye on potential homegrown Sounders in years to come, he's one to watch.
I also thought Sweet looked good as a winger. He's settled into a role as an every-match super-sub this season, which has given him 18 appearances but limited minutes. Ike Crook also looked good running the midfield in a box-to-box role.
The next match was the U16s and I was only able to catch the first half before heading over to the Sounders Women tryouts elsewhere at Starfire (more on that in a bit). The U16s are having to adapt to life without leading scorer Denis Kalamar, who's out for another few weeks with a broken foot he suffered in a match on February 3rd. They'd managed a win and two low-scoring draws since then. In this match they took an early lead on a goal from 15-year-old Harrison Kurtz (what were you doing when you were 15?) but surrendered three quick goals late in the second half (including a penalty) to take a 1-3 loss.
On Sunday, when most of us were trying to figure out how we felt about an Obafemi Martins debut that also included a late Portland comeback for a draw, the teams took the field again. The U18s gave up an early lead but came back to score four unanswered, including a goal and two assists from Morris (see, I said he was fine). The U16s followed that up with a 3-1 win, finishing the weekend for the Academy with a solid 3-1 record.
The Academies now have a one-game road trip to Vancouver on the 30th and then it's a run of six straight home dates through April and early May, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to swing by Starfire and watch the future in action.
Later on Sunday we opened up the Reserve League season against the Timbers Reserves, for which Agent_J provided our play by play. If you want to see the details, read that, but from an organizational perspective a couple of things stood out. First, Zavaleta started at forward. There's been a question about whether he would best line up at forward or central defense at the MLS level. Early indications in the preseason were that we were targeting central defense, but with the addition of Traore, Fairclough still looking good on trial, and the loss of our starting forwards to national team duty, we're suddenly a lot deeper in central defense than we are in attack. And at classical target forward, we're really only one Ochoa deep. So trialing him at forward makes sense.
The other interesting thing is that Morris played the second half in this match. For those counting, that's three games in two days and two on Sunday. And yet he was one of the standouts in the second half judging by the play by play, with plenty of opportunities. So we shouldn't be surprised to see him cropping up more often in these Reserve League matches (along with other Academy standouts like Crook and Duncan McCormick).
While the Academies were playing, at the other end of Starfire the Sounders Women were holding tryouts. I only caught 10 minutes or so, but the turnout was impressive, with 50-60 players in various colors of pinnies. As in years past, the Women will be largely built from Huskies and other local college players (especially with Washington head coach Leslie Gallimore now an official part of the organization), but we should expect a few players to graduate from the tryouts to the club.
The Women have also announced another signing. After picking up one Canadian national team player last week they added another: defender Shannon Woeller. It shouldn't be surprising that we're mining Canada for players, given that new head coach Hubert Busby most recently coached the Whitecaps Women.