The Sounders Academy is one of a handful of organizations to send all three age-groups to the USSDA playoffs. We’re looking at each of the three squads. Part 1 can be read here. This is Part 2. We’ll next look at the U15s.
With two players on first-team contracts, and five total players signed to pro deals, the next team we’ll preview may be the most exciting of the Sounders Academy teams in the Development Academy Playoffs.
The U17s come into the DA Playoffs looking to keep the most successful year in Sounders Academy history rolling. This U-17 team made history by becoming the first MLS team to win the Champions Division of the GA Cup this year after having won this exact tournament last year. The team finds themselves as the lowest seed in a group containing Texas’ Solar Soccer Club, Montreal Impact, and Maryland’s Bethesda SC.
Context is key, though, so first it’s important to note the age of this group: one of the youngest teams to compete at the GA Cup, there are 12 players bornin 2003 on this roster, not to mention the five players from the U15s who contributed throughout the season. Five players from the U17 side also got minutes with the U19, another at least made bench appearances with the older team, and between players signed to the Sounders’ first team and Tacoma Defiance, and players playing as amateurs, the U17s have contributed 1,541 minutes to the USL Championship side. The team has also seen 11 players at one time or another called into youth national team camps, adding another layer of difficulty to fielding a consistent squad week in and week out.
Some of those difficulties should be mitigated when the tournament starts, as the playoffs fall at a time in the calendar when neither of the Sounders’ first team or the Tacoma Defiance have any games, and the players who often play up an age group will likely be playing with the U17s. The team will surely benefit from the presence of players who compete against grown men consistently, like Danny Leyva, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, and Danny Robles, all of whom can add a touch of class and the potential for goals and assists in the tournament.
Plenty of digital ink has been spilled about Leyva and AOC recently, so it seems worth while to turn the focus to some players that fans may not be quite as familiar with. Eric Kinzner, a centerback and ’03, has been a nearly permanent presence in the side’s defensive setup. Appearing in 19 games for the U17s — each one of them a start — Kinzner recently travelled to the Czech Republic with a US U16 team for games against Venezuela, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Ray Serrano, who signed with the USL team before last season, has only made one 56-minute professional start, but has been a force to be reckoned with in DA play. With some of the other notable attackers from this age group spending more of their time with Tacoma, Serrano has filled the gap leading the team with nine goals in 14 appearances during the academy season. The forward/winger has also chipped in one goal in four games with the U19s. Alex Villanueva, a winger who joined the Sounders Academy from the Real Salt Lake system, has been a nearly constant presence on the U17 team sheet. Villanueva, just as Serrano and Kinzner, has also been rewarded for his play with calls into US youth camps, playing in the Nike Friendlies in November with the US U17s. Serrano and Villanueva joined a team that mixed players from the U15s, U17s and U19s that traveled to Switzerland to compete in the Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup. They were the youngest team in the tournament, but Villanueva still managed to impress which will hopefully carry over into the playoffs after making 19 starts in 22 appearances for the Sounders U17 side during league play.
This team is exceptionally talented, and could be the best group of players we’ve ever seen play together in the Sounders Academy’s history. With the possibility of all of the eligible players participating in the tournament, they have the potential to retain their title as U-17 champions. They’ll begin their quest on Tuesday, June 18.