Last week when we checked in on the Sounders Academy both teams had effectively clinched their divisions with a game left to play. And Seattle won both of those final games (by a combined 6-1) to head into the postseason with positive momentum. The Sounders were one of only three clubs to win their division in both age groups, along with DC United and Empire United. And they're one of only 5 MLS Academies to make the playoffs with both age groups, the others being DC United, Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, and Real Salt Lake.
This morning the pool of 32 playoff teams in each age group were drawn into 8 groups of 4 to face off this weekend at Pizza Hut Park in Dallas. The 8 group winners will move on to the Finals in Milwaukee in July.
The U-18 team finished the season at 2.08 PPG overall and was drawn into a group with Seacoast United, St Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri, and Baltimore Bays Chelsea. Seacoast United is based in New Hampshire and happens to have been the club team of one Mike Fucito. They had a pretty pedestrian 1.31 PPG but made it into the playoffs with a final game victory over the solid Empire United. The unwieldy St Louis Scott Gallagher comes from being a sort of St Louis-area superclub built by combining three youth soccer clubs in the area. St Louis is perennially discussed as an MLS expansion possibility as the area has long been considered the soccer heart of America (though Cascadia may contend for that title in the coming years). The club had a 1.67 PPG and was a lower half wild card team. Finally, Baltimore Bays Chelsea will be the second club the team faces this season with an official association with a top 4 EPL team after playing in a division with California-based Arsenal FC. Baltimore finished with a 1.78 PPG. This is a group the Sounders should be comfortably favored in.
The U-16 team finished with 2.32 PPG — 3rd best in the entire age group out of 68 teams — but drew what looks like a much tougher group. All four teams won their divisions. Despite being seeded, they drew the DC United academy, who scored 33 and gave up only 8 goals in 12 divisional games. DC has one of the most heralded academies in MLS after producing contributors like Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, and Ethan White, and the Sounders would do well to emulate them. The group also includes the Crew U16s and upstate New York's Empire United, through neither would have made the playoffs as wild cards, suggesting they had pretty soft groups.
Group play runs from Thursday through Tuesday and we'll keep you posted with the results.