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Sounders sign two Academy products to First Team

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Josh Atencio and Ethan Dobbelaere join ahead of the MLS is Back Tournament.

Charis Wilson / Sounders FC Communications

Following Garth Lagerway’s suggestion that the Seattle Sounders would be adding two players to the roster by the time they arrive in Olrando for the MLS is Back Tournament, the question of who those players would be has been answered. Josh Atencio and Ethan Dobbelaere, two players with extensive experience in the Sounders development system, are the 14th and 15th HomeGrown Player signings for the Sounders. Atencio and Dobbelaere both spent part of the 2020 preseason with the Sounders first team, playing in the team’s friendly against Peñarol, before the start of Tacoma Defiance’s own preseason. This brings the Sounders’ first team roster to 26 players.

“Josh and Ethan are good young players who have performed well in training with the First Team when given the chance,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said in a team release. “I look forward to bringing them more into the fold and continuing to see them develop as professionals.”

Atencio, a Bellevue native, is an 18-year-old central midfielder and defender, has proven himself to be a leader on the field and a strong defensive presence in more 2,000 minutes in the USL Championship playing for Tacoma Defiance. At 6-foot-1, Atencio provides a physical presence, unafraid of a challenge whether in the air or on the ground. But his technical ability and his eye for a line-breaking pass are the elements of his game that elevate him from a promising prospect to a potential star. Whether his future is as a centerback or farther up the field, Atencio has proven his ability to compete against fellow professionals at the USL level, and should benefit from the increased competition of MLS. His versatility will provide Brian Schmetzer added flexibility as he navigates a compressed schedule in the Orlando tournament, but Atencio’s path to minutes may be clearest at CB.

Dobbelaere is a name that until relatively recently was largely unknown to those other than serious followers of the Sounders Academy. Dobbelaere jumped into the broader consciousness of the fan base following a series of stellar performances as the Sounders U-17s made history by winning the 2019 Generation Adidas Cup Champions Division. Shortly after the tournament Dobbelaere made his first appearance with the Defiance and earned his first US Youth National Team call-up last summer. Despite a lack of involvement with youth national teams, Dobbelaere forced his way into the squad that traveled to the 2019 U-17 World Cup in Brazil. Although that team failed to live up to hopes or expectations, Dobbelaere performed well enough to appear in all three games. Dobbelaere, who turns 18 in November, is an attacking-minded midfielder from Seattle who is an exceptional dribbler and a good passer capable of contributing from any of the attacking-band of midfielders in the Sounders 4-2-3-1.

Both players are a credit to the organization’s commitment to developing talent, and will join the first team with an intrinsic understanding of the system of play used throughout the Sounders organization, with Atencio and Dobbelaere having been in the system since 2016 and 2015 respectively. They are the next wave of Academy players seasoned with Tacoma Defiance, following in the footsteps of Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, and sure to be followed themselves by many more.