When Danny Leyva signed with the Seattle Sounders in 2019, he was the youngest player to ever join the MLS squad. Leyva, who was still just 15 at the time, was also just the second Academy player the Sounders had ever signed prior their graduating high school.
About two years later, Leyva is still the youngest-ever player to sign a Sounders first-team contract, but his signing proved to part of a trend that only seems to be speeding up. There are now four teenagers already signed to the Sounders’ 23-player roster and 10 of the 27 field players currently in preseason camp are 19 or younger (as an aside, just nine of the players in preseason camp played collegiately).
While the Sounders have made a habit of including Academy and Defiance players in preseason camps for several years, there’s probably never before been quite so many roster spots still up for grabs less than a month before the start of the regular season. Chances are, the Sounders will sign at least two more of these young players.
When asked who of the youngsters competing for first-team spots have stood out, head coach Brian Schmetzer named no fewer than six players, five of whom are 17 or younger.
At the top of Schmetzer’s list was Reed Baker-Whiting, who doesn’t turn 16 until the end of March. The Seattle native signed to the Tacoma Defiance last year and trained with the Sounders after the USL season ended. He’s played mostly as a central midfielder and is likely an 8 or a 6.
“He might be the leader in the clubhouse,” Schmetzer said about Baker-Whiting’s pursuit of a first-team contract.
Other players Schmetzer name-checked include:
Juan Alvarez: The 16-year-old is an attacking talent who has played both as a central and wide midfielder. The Sounders seem to like him as a central player for now, but size — he’s listed at 5-foot-6 and 134 pounds — likely limit his ability to contribute at the MLS level just yet. Alvarez is currently in the Academy.
Sota Kitahara: Still listed at just 5-foot-7 and 146 pounds, Schmetzer suggested that a recent growth spurt has helped him fill out in a way that could make him a bit more ready to compete in MLS. Kitahara has played as both a defensive midfielder and a right back for Defiance, but the Sounders seem to now think his future is a 6 or 8. Kitahara signed with Defiance last fall.
Cody Baker: After spending most of his time in the Academy as a centerback, the Sounders seem to see a future for him at right back. Schmetzer spoke especially high of the 17-year-old’s physicality, but was particularly impressed with his passing. “He might not quite be ready but he will be ready.” Baker is currently in the Academy.
Taka Sasaki: The left back is said to be a bit in the mold of Brad Smith. At 16, he’s already 5-foot-9, which suggests he could fill out nicely. Sasaki is currently in the Academy.
Abdoulaye Cissoko: The centerback is the oldest of the players mentioned here, but that also potentially makes him a bit closer to being able to contribute to the first team and at 21 is hardly “old” anyway. Cissoko is 6-foot-3 and appears to have added some muscle over the offseason. The big challenge with Cissoko is that he’s French, which means he’d count against the foreign-player limit. “He’s got a legitimate shot if he plays well in these exhibition games,” Schmetzer said. Cissoko is currently with Tacoma.