Still a week ahead of the MLS SuperDraft, the Seattle Sounders have already added a pair of promising youngsters. The rumors of Wake Forest's Sean Okoli and Stanford's Aaron Kovar were made official on Thursday, giving the Sounders their second and third Homegrown Player signings in team history. DeAndre Yedlin was, of course, the team's first-ever HGP and Darwin Jones has also reportedly been offered a contract.
"It's exciting to have two more Academy kids join our team," Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said in a team release. "Being able to add two young and talented players is a good thing. It's also very important that Academy kids can see a pathway onto the first team."
MLS rules limit teams as to how many HGPs can be signed to Generation adidas-level contracts, but does not limit HGP signings. It was not immediately clear what, if any, maneuvering the Sounders had to do to make this possible.
After significant improvements in his hold-up game, Okoli drew interest from non-MLS clubs. The Wake Forest forward will compete for playing time in a very crowded attacking group. Though he only scored twice for the Sounders U23s in limited time, his college stats are quite good. His nine goals and three assists in 2013 put him at 24 goals and nine assists in his three years at Wake.
"I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," Okoli said. "I can't wait to play at CenturyLink in front of all of the fans. I am excited to help the team win games, score goals and really get my career started."
Projected as a mid-first round talent, Okoli is another solid prospect drawn from the Sounders Academy. He has been called up to both the U18 and U20 national teams and was one of the top forwards in the ACC over the last two seasons. He projects as a target-forward type that runs wide channels well, playing similar in style to Eddie Johnson.
Kovar is coming off a sophomore season at Stanford in which he had two goals and six assists. Back in 2011, he was named the Washington State Player of the Year and was called up to the U18 national team for a series of friendlies. He was recruited to Stanford and in 2012 was the Pac12 Freshman of the Year.
Top Drawer Soccer's Travis Clark, when asked about how Kovar would fare in the 2014 draft, told Sounder at Heart "He's a left-sided midfielder who can serve in a good ball. Probably would be a second round pick, borderline late first. Don't expect him to start too many games right away, but could end up contributing if he adjusts quickly -- plus it's a spot where the Sounders need depth."
With no other pure left mid options on the roster except the possible signing of Mario Martinez and flex players like Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle and Alex Caskey, the youngster will have space on the depth chart to claim as his own.
Kovar's playing style is most similar to Brad Davis. This is not a statement of skill level, but an image of the style of player he is. He leaves Stanford with five goals and eight assists in 33 matches. He also played for the Sounders U23s in 2013 where he had three assists in 299 minutes.
Offense: A hold-up forward that drifts wide when opportunity appears. Good speed, but counts more on skills and soccer knowledge to find space. Solid striker of the ball and dangerous in the box.
Defense: Doesn't apply pressure often. Can help in dead-ball situations.
Physique: Good speed. Filled out well since leaving the academy.
Best Case 2014: Solid season competing for role as 4th forward.
Offense: Great dead ball and run-of-play service. Can use dribble to gain space. Solid passing skills.
Defense: Good upright tackler. Solid off-ball coverage.
Physique: Neither speed nor strength stand out, but has a willingness to get gritty as needed.
Best Case 2014: Will earn significant time on left as roster currently constructed.