UPDATE: It appears as though the Sounders and U.S. Soccer have reached a compromise that would allow Obed Vargas to join the U20s during parts of the knockout stage of the tournament, according to sources with knowledge of the plans. This would allow Vargas to remain with the Sounders through at least their June 18 match against LAFC and possibly the June 25 match against Sporting KC. Vargas would then join the U20s for the quarterfinals onward. All semifinalists will qualify for the 2023 U20 World Cup, while the two finalists will earn a spot in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Obed Vargas’ stock has been — to borrow a term — a rocket to the moon. At this point last year, he was playing for the Sounders Academy with few outside the organization knowing much about him at all. Since then, he’s not only become one of the youngest players to ever appear in an MLS game but is now regularly starting for a team that just won Concacaf Champions League.
His fortunes in the U.S. national team setup have also been rising. A year ago, he’d just gotten his first invitation to a U15 camp. Now, he’s regularly getting called into the U20 camp, a full cycle ahead of his normal age group.
Vargas isn’t just getting invites, either. U20 head coach Mikey Varas had plans to make Vargas a key component of the upcoming qualifying tournament that is scheduled to run from June 18-July 3 in Honduras. In addition to determining who goes to the 2023 U20 World Cup, it doubles as a qualifying tournament for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
“We’re really proud of Obed and the process that he’s gone through of coming in as a younger player,” Varas told American Soccer Now in an extensive interview that features quite a bit of talk about Vargas. “We put quite strong demands on him. The feedback was very direct, and we gave him plenty of support, but we certainly challenged him.
“He’s in a club that supports young player development and believes that if you’re ready and you’re good enough to play, you’ll play. And I really respect that.”
Those plans may have to be put on hold. With João Paulo’s season-ending injury, Vargas appears set to be the Sounders’ primary replacement. Assuming that bears out, a Sounders source confirmed that the team is unlikely to release Vargas, who could have to miss as many as five games if he were to join the U20s for the entire tournament.
“We’re not trying to dwell too much on what a bummer it is,” Varas said. “Moreso, we’re looking at it as an opportunity.
“At the end of the day, we can look at that and we can find the silver lining that Obed, one of our top priorities for the future of our program, is playing important games week-in, week-out as a starter and we can bring another player in to help the team qualify and help that player gain experience and valuable development as well.”