In what is likely to become a sign of things to come, two young players from the Seattle Sounders organization will be going on loan to a European team, it was announced on Friday. Sounder at Heart has independently confirmed that Alfonso Ocampo Chavez and Sota Kitahara are both on loans to FC Pinzgau Saalfelden through the end of the calendar year.
“It can often be beneficial to a young player’s development to step outside their comfort zone and compete in an alternative environment,” Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey said in a team release. “Alfonso and Sota are a couple of young players we’ve had in our club for a while now, and we’re looking forward to seeing how they perform abroad.”
While sending a pair of teenagers to an Austrian third division team may seem a bit random, FC Pinzgau is at least somewhat notable. Playing their home games in a picturesque stadium nestled in the Alps, the club is run by a group of Americans who have created a system of fan ownership. The Athletic wrote a feature on the team in 2019.
Among the group managing the team is former Real Salt Lake VP of Communications Trey Fitzgerald. Sounders Sporting Director Craig Waibel knows Fitzgerald well from their days together at RSL and has previously sent players to the Austrian team. Pinzgau is managed by Christian Ziege, who had an extensive European playing career that included nearly 200 appearances for Bayern Munich and 72 caps for the German national team.
While similar in age, Ocampo-Chavez, 19, and Kitahara, 18, are in different places in their professional careers. Ocampo-Chavez signed a first-team contract in 2019 after putting up prolific scoring numbers for both the Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance but has struggled to find consistency over the past couple seasons. Kitahara is signed to the Tacoma Defiance and has more slowly developed into a reliable central midfielder.
Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey has long said that the team is looking for opportunities like this to send players on loan, something they had previously done with Shandon Hopeau and Trey Muse earlier this year.
Similar to those moves, the loan of Ocampo-Chavez likely opens up one of the Supplemental Roster spots reserved for Homegrown Players.