Perhaps it’s obvious from the title, but the Sounders’ newest crop of Homegrown Players are about as Seattle as they can get. Both UCLA forward Seyi (pronounced like “shay”) Adekoya and University of Washington midfielder Henry Wingo are not only Seattle natives, they’re actually longtime teammates. Before they partnered at the Sounders academy while attending Seattle-area high schools, the talented duo played on the same Crossfire youth teams in Redmond, WA.
In fact, it’s that friendship that helped ease both players into the idea of forgoing their senior year of college and signing HGP contracts with the Sounders as a kind of package deal. After the contracts were officially signed on Wednesday, both players told Sounder at Heart that they didn’t make their decisions until discussing it with each other. Wingo said that “when we both knew were in the same position with the offer on the table, it was only natural that we talked to each other about it.” It was the same for Adekoya, who said that Wingo was one of the first people he called, “because we have been playing together for so long.” He noted that even though “we didn’t exactly make the decision together,” the opportunity to take the leap together seemed too good to pass up.
After knowing this about them, it’s hard not to just lump Wingo and Adekoya together. Their paths are obviously very similar, but how they approach themselves as players is where they really differ.
Adekoya seemed very confident about his decision to forgo his final year at UCLA, because he knew that it was the best thing for his career. “I came to a point in my life where I decided that while school will always be there, soccer is only good for so long - as long as your body lasts. Once I realized I wanted to play soccer professionally, it wasn’t really a question.” Wingo, on the other hand, was effusive with his praise for the University of Washington and its soccer program. “Coming to UW was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” He said that the longer he stayed at the university, the harder it became for him to decide to leave. “The more time I spent there, the more I fell in love with the program and the school.” But, even though it was harder for him to leave, Wingo echoed Adekoya’s sentiment that it was time to make the leap for his career.
It’s got to be especially hard for all of Seattle’s rookies in 2017, because they have to follow the 2016 MLS Rookie of the Year and Sounders Homegrown Player, Jordan Morris. Wingo and Adekoya are grounded enough to temper their expectations, however - at least externally.
Adekoya, a talented goalscorer, said that he hopes to closely watch and emulate Clint Dempsey, Morris, and the other experienced forwards in Seattle. “I have no real expectations for playing time or goals to score or assists to have, just to work hard and do my best and see what I can do.”
Wingo has similar expectations and goals, but he admits that it is flattering for a team to bring him on after winning the MLS Cup. With that in mind, Wingo said that all he wants is “to be as useful as I can, learn as much as I can, and do whatever I have to do to help this group achieve big things again.”
Wingo, in particular, will probably need that attitude going into the season, as there’s been some debate about his best position and where he’ll fit with the Sounders. He believes that his best position is on the wing, “I like to use my pace and that’s a good place to do that. I pride myself on technical ability and being able to change a game when I have to.” His college record certainly shows how good he is at that position, but the club might have other things in mind. Luckily, Wingo has no qualms with playing wherever his coaches ask. “Whatever position they see that I fit best in, that’s what I’m gonna do, and I’m gonna do whatever I can to play that position as best as possible.”
Adekoya, on the other hand, is most likely going to be played as a forward. This will make it even harder for him to break into the first team, with guys like Morris and Dempsey topping the depth chart, but the organization probably thinks that he could be the future of the Sounders’ attack. Whereas Wingo was hesitant to compare himself to any one player, Adekoya said that he was very impressed with certain aspects of Sounders forward Oalex Anderson’s game last season. Even if Anderson didn’t exactly light the league on fire, he was impressed by the senior team forward’s speed—something that he’s also been known for since his academy days. “He’s really fast, just like me. He’s dynamic and mercurial and all those fun adjectives you can use to describe a player like him. I really like watching him and I like the way he plays.”
Even though the duo had each other to chat with about joining the Sounders, Wingo had another voice helping him decide what to do: former UW teammate and current Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan. Now a two-year veteran with the Sounders, Roldan served as a great resource for Wingo, not least of which because he refers to Roldan as “an amazing guy, an amazing soccer player, and an inspiration to me.” Wingo said that he was very impressed with how Roldan worked hard and took his chances in the past two years: “You look at him now and he’s absolutely a marquee piece of this club, and he was important to their success in winning MLS Cup.” He said that he looked to Roldan for guidance in making this decision, and relishes the chance to play with the midfielder again in Seattle. “He’s definitely somebody I look to for guidance, he’s just a guy you really want to watch and learn from. He’s one of those guys who has always got your back.”
Now that they have the chance to play in their hometown, for their home club, with each other, it’s safe to assume that Adekoya and Wingo are pretty happy with their decision. Even though Wingo didn’t even leave the city to attend UW, he called the opportunity to play for the Sounders “a dream start” to kick off his career surrounded by family, friends, and a familiar place that he loves. Adekoya, who has spent the last three years in Southern California, was even more exuberant about his return home. “So. Happy. I really like Seattle, it’s my favorite place to be. I don’t think I’d really want to play in MLS in any other place.”