With the arrival last week of the NCAA-branded National Signing Day — the first day athletes can officially bind themselves to play for a school — eight current Seattle Sounders Academy players have committed to play the 2017-18 season for various collegiate programs. Alexander Bradbury (Gardner-Webb University), Joseph Hafferty (Oregon State), Lucas Meek (Washington), Jackson Ragen (Michigan), Sam Rogers (Villanova), Paul Rothrock (Notre Dame), Stirling Russell (Washington) and Kei Tomozawa (Stanford) will all leave the Sounders organization this coming fall; it is likely some will eventually return but some will not.
This group of players can be split, roughly, into three categories: those who are not currently catching the attention of professional clubs, thus making college a great next/final step in their soccer career; those with professional potential for whom collegiate soccer is probably the best place for them to get meaningful minutes; and those for whom it is questionable whether college is the best option for them in terms of soccer development.
The majority of the eight fit into the first of the three categories. Things can always change but it is unlikely Bradbury, Ragen, Rothrock, Meek or Hafferty ever feature for the Sounders. None of the five have seen time with S2 or youth national teams so it is fair to assume they are the farthest from MLS level skill, at least right now. The conversation around the remaining three is much more interesting.
The University of Washington is a good place for Stirling Russell, a right back, to play soccer for the next couple of years. There doesn’t appear to be imminent minutes available on S2 for Russell so collegiate soccer is the highest level of competition available to him, and while the amount of matches in the college season isn’t ideal it is more populated than the Academy schedule. Russell was recently called in to the US U18s’ version of camp cupcake so he is certainly a player the Sounders should keep an eye on while he plays just north of the Lake Union/Union Bay complex.
Unlike Russell, Kei Tomozawa has had, and will likely continue to this season, the chance to play soccer against professional competition with S2. In 2016, Tomozawa made seven appearances for S2 and one for the US U18s. Despite the opportunities available for him at S2, Stanford is likely a good place for Tomozawa. Stanford has already proven that it can give the Sounders’ professional quality players in Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar, and with the Cardinal Tomozawa will get the chance to establish himself as a true puller of strings in midfield. In the S2 midfield he might end up as the second or third option. It may be only a year or two before Tomozawa is ready to leave university and take a shot at MLS.
While college is an at least reasonable choice for the seven discussed so far, there is a real possibility it stunts Sam Rogers’ Development. Rogers has committed to play for Villanova in a weak Big East where his size and athleticism will get him by. The young defensive midfielder has shown fairly well practicing with the first team this preseason and he needs to continue to play against professional athletes who can negate his size. He just won’t get that at Villanova and it is hard to see him taking the next developmental step without that challenge. There is room on S2 for a CDM like Rogers and that is seemingly where he would be best served as far as soccer development is concerned.