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Tacoma is about to see a Golden Generation

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With Chris Little and seven of his USSDA U17 champions on the roster, the time to make the playoff push is now.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

While Seattle Sounders President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey wants to push back against calling the crop of U17s a Golden Generation, hoping to have repeatably good talent, the fact is the U17s that won the USSDA title are making a push into the professional ranks. Their coach is now the coach of Tacoma S2-be-named-Wednesday and the drive of the organization is that this group of talents can make the playoffs.

Lagerwey and Tacoma coach Chris Little have that belief for three reasons. Tacoma brought back more talents than ever before, their Academy kids signed to the team are fueling a surge in quality for two prime youth national team squads, and outgoing coach John Hutchinson convinced the organization to have greater numbers so that training in full-sided tactics would be possible on most days.

Continuity

Fourteen players who saw the field with S2 at Cheney Stadium and around the USL Championship are coming back. That’s three more than the year previous and the highest number in history. These aren’t just one year returnees. Six of the players returning saw minutes as far back as 2015 when the S2 project launched.

Players returning to Tacoma

Player name Minutes in 2018 Minutes in 2017 Minutes in 2016 Minutes in 2015 Total pro minutes
Player name Minutes in 2018 Minutes in 2017 Minutes in 2016 Minutes in 2015 Total pro minutes
Ulysse 2466 1290 3756
Rogers 814 2430 3244
Hopeau 2169 768 97 3034
Hinds 1651 252 44 1947
Daley 1673 1673
Gonzalez 1086 340 1426
Burke-Gilroy 1320 1320
Vargas 563 563
Diaz 312 312
Ocampo-Chavez 163 90 253
Serrano 94 94
Levya 90 90
Atencio 84 84
Robles 44 44
Data from Soccerway.com Dave Clark

Of the 40 goals scored last year, players who scored 18 of those are coming back to the team — whether with the USL or MLS side. Seven of the top 10 chance creators are back as well, as are five players who assisted on at least two goals.

Not only is there continuity with the players returning, but the coaching staff returns in ways that should help as well. Assistant coach Wade Webber worked with the older Academy kids when they were with the Academy and last year (Alec Diaz, Nick Hinds, Sam Rogers). New head coach Chris Little is escorting his U17 squad into the pro ranks. He is also responsible for implementing a player profile system that trains the youth on specific roles that they assume as they move through the organization.

Quality

With Youdon Trophies and the U17 title, people know just how good that golden group is, but they aren’t the only talents on the squad. Trey Muse and Sam Rogers are probably going to the U20 World Cup representing the United States. The last U19 team included not-yet pros Blake Malone and Sam Fowler. Both of those kids are on Seattle’s preseason roster.

The United States U17s could also qualify for their World Cup. This spring they have the CONCACAF championship, and with a good run there the team would head to Peru for the World Cup. Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Ray Serrano were in the January camp.

When asked about the loss of David Estrada, who moved on for family reasons despite the organization wanting him back, Lagerwey pointed out that Alec Diaz has a year+ history of scoring a goal a game and that Ocampo-Chavez is possibly the best forward on the US U17s.

In total, 20 Sounders are in US youth national team consideration and several could be repping the Rave Green (and whatever Tacoma’s colors are) when they go to World Cups.

Training improvements

In the past when S2 lost players to fill out First Team practice needs, it meant as few as six of their pro USL talents would be practicing together. While drills exist to help continual development, with that number of players it greatly reduces the ability to train with full field tactics.

Hutchinson and Webber convinced the organization to add more bodies from day one. Last year the team had only 12 on roster when they opened training camp. This year they will start with 16.

Sprinkle in a draftee or two that makes the squad, maybe another potential HGP (four are in the first phase of MLS training camp) and Tacoma could start the season with more players under contract than the USL side has had in its brief history.

There’s reason for optimism for Tacoma. While the playoffs might be a bold declaration of intent, the foundation of the organization’s arguments seem correct. They know that they improved the training curriculum, have quality players and brought back more players from previous rosters than ever before. Now, it’s just up to the players and coaches to perform.