This weekend marks the arrival of the college soccer season for most of Division I, and once again the Sounders Academy has spread a crop of talented young players across the American landscape. By my count, the Sounders are represented in over 20 institutes of higher learning. Here's a brief preview of what we'll be watching this season.
The Returning Trio
Last season's Academy graduating class was topped by three players who were significant contributors to top D-I schools as Freshmen. DeAndre Yedlin was an every-minute player from day one as an attacking fullback for mid-major powerhouse Akron and coach Caleb Porter. This summer he was a major contributor to the Sounders U23 team and now he returns to the Zips as a sophomore sporting a world-class mohawk, but the hair hasn't slowed him down. He scored the only goal in Akron's preseason 1-0 win over St Louis then had an assist against Wright St.
In the ACC, Nick Palodichuk started every match for Duke in the midfield, scoring 8 goals and picking up 6 assists and was the only Freshman on the all-ACC 2nd team. His 22 points tied him for 3rd nationally among Freshmen. Palodichuk was kept from playing with the Sounders U23s by an injury, but he started at least one Duke preseason game, so should be good to go. And across the conference waits Sean Okoli with Wake Forest. He wasn't starting with the team out of the gate like the other two, but by the end of the season he was a factor, picking up 4 goals and 3 assists in the second half. He has started both preseason games, so expect to see him as a major part of the Deacons' offense.
The Freshman Phenom
Following in the footsteps of those three, Aaron Kovar is set to have an immediate impact for Stanford. In the middle of their first preseason match, head coach Jeremy Gunn was unhappy with the play and subbed in a bunch of reserves, including Kovar. Then the young players "just completely took over the game" according to the coach. Kovar assisted their first goal then scored their second in a 3-0 win. The following week he scored the only goal in Stanford's 1-0 win over 18th ranked St Mary's off of the bench. So he's certainly hit the ground running.
The Pack of Huskies
No college team has become more closely tied to the Sounders than Washington, where 6 players are expected to suit up for the Huskies. Darwin Jones transfers in as a sophomore after an epic season with Highline Community College (and a great Sounders U23 season). Redshirt Freshman Ryan Herman transfers in after sitting out a season as the third string keeper at Santa Clara behind Kevin Klasila (who's now playing for the Charleston Battery). Based on the preseason, he's now the backup to Spencer Richey. Redshirt Freshman Drew White returns for his second season and is joined by incoming Freshmen Dom Dismuke, Michael Gallagher, and Ian Lange.
Those Huskies received one vote in the preseason poll for first. TopDrawerSoccer considers Jones ability to step up from community college a key to their success. Their preview of the Pac-12 also gives attention to Kovar.
A number of Sounders Academy players are also featuring at smaller schools in the area, including Austin Sweeney at Seattle U, returning Sophomore Evan Robicheau at Seattle Pacific, and a cadre of four Sounders at Western (Jeremy Wentzel, Austin Curtis, Kurtis Pederson, and Sawyer Preston).
This is clearly a brief sample. We'll continue to look around the nation, to Delaware, West Virginia, Arizona CCs, USCB, San Diego St, Charleston and other schools with Academy Alums. #TheFuture is in the Academies. Toronto and Dallas are both leaning heavily on their youth and that youth is not why those teams struggled in 2012.
Look out for a weekly (hopefully) update of the progress of the Academy alumni.