As Seattle Sounders FC's Academy enters its winter break to rest and recharge they stand in strong in the standings. The U-18s are first in the Northwest Division and seventh by PPM among teams with 10+ games. At the U-16 level the team is dominating tied for first by PPM with 10+ games and in first in the division. While Seattle hasn't pulled the trigger on a HomeGrown Player signing yet, there are a few players in college now who would be on a short list if we got to see inside the offices of the organization. On Monday Darren Sawatzky (Academy Technical Director) spent nearly twenty minutes on the phone chatting about a few players suiting up for the 18s now as well as the general philosophy of the club. After watching the U-18s against CDA, reading reports of their performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps Residency and that chat it seems a good time to highlight a few of the players who could become First Team Sounders in the future.
Aaron Kovar is sidelined with an injury so hasn't played much this season. But he's also probably the most known of this Academy class. He won many accolades in 2010-11 - State Gatorade Player of Year, three time All KingCo team, three time scholar athlete at Garfield High, 2011 KingCo MVP, ODP player, played up while with Emerald City FC. The Stanford commit is also an academic standout. He took the pitch four times with the Sounders Reserves. Based just on resume the left mid belongs on any short list of fan attention.
There are other players that fans should learn as well. Dom Dismuke (pictured after recieving a "Supa Dom" cape from an ECS member) netted 9 goals all last season. This year he's already at 11. The biggest changes are two fold - he's developed physically and he's now the focus of the offense. Sawatzky notes that he has ton continue that physical improvement, but has more to offer.
One thing about being a striker in the Academy, college and professional level is that you have to be able to finish and Dom's gotten better and better at finishing. The statistics show that this year. There's another piece and that's the physical side. He's getting stronger and bodying up better but he's still going to have to improve that because the NCAA is a hard place to play. You're going to get knocked around by very athletic players. In that part he needs to build and get stronger. But, if you score goals you are always going to have a place to play. Right now Dom's on fire, I believe on Sunday he had a goal and two assists. He's involved or finishing off just about everything we're doing up front. If he keeps that up that skies the limit for him.
Another player who stepped up in performance from 2010-11 to the current class is Ian Lange. Coming up from the U-16 team Lange has an appearance with the Sounders Reserves at right back over the summer. More naturally a centerback he has strong dribbling and passing skills that can develop into a unique talent capable of getting forward more than typical. He also reads set-peices quite well and is second on the team in goals scored through a potent air game. When asked if he was succeeding due to being a physical presence (he's a strong 6'1") or through his soccer skills Sawatzky responded;
It's a cluster of all those pieces. At this level, to be a top player in the Academy league and above you have to possess more than just physical attributes or love and knowledge of the game. Ian's, late bloomer's not the right word because he's definitely not late; he's come on in the past year. He's a very good technical player. He understands the game of soccer very well. He's also got a little south side presence to him. He's a hard player. As a central defender you have to have a little bite to you and he's definitely got a bit of that. He's still learning and growing as a player and his decision making has to come, but that's normal for his age group. He's really growing into a top level player. It's going to be exciting to watch him move on to college and hopefully something bigger down the road.
Like all soccer teams, success isn't about one, two or three players, but a deep and broad squad who can contribute. Here Jordan Schweitzer scores one of his four goals off an interchange with Dismuke.
When asked to comment about other players a fan should watch during Academy performances Sawatzky didn't want to limit himself to just the 18s. He probably could have talked for an hour mentioning every player on either roster and praised them. Here are the few he spoke of in just a few dozen seconds.
I don't want to single anyone out because they're all so exciting. That 18 group is very talented. The 16 group is talented also. One of the players that's been very good for us for two years is Michael Gallagher. He's struggled with a couple injuries this year. He and Ian Lange as a centerback pairing in our Academy is as good as any in the league. There are 78 clubs in this whole Academy and I would take those two as my centerbacks any day of the week. You've got kids like Austin Sweeney and Ike Crook who do the dirty work and Jordan Schweitzer they aren't always on the score sheet but they're always on the roster. They do a lot of dirty work that allows guys like Aaron and Dom to finish stuff off.
The Academy doesn't have a scheduled game at home until March, but if you follow their Twitter or Facebook pages you are likely to see some friendlies announced. Sometimes these will be on short notice. Most games are at Starfire Stadium, with occaissional matches back on Field #11.
Tomorrow, we'll share the conversation about the Sounders philosphy and system.