Sounders, Reign, Development Academy: All United

Sounders, Reign, Development Academy: All United

 

Whatever your dreams, a pathway now awaits at Puget Sound’s most progressive youth soccer club.

Whether it’s advancing to state and regional cups or academy access, an aspiration to play college or perhaps the pros, Seattle United is fast becoming the destination for a variety of players and reasons.

In just the past few months, Seattle United was chosen as a youth partner by both Sounders FC and Reign FC, and United was granted a full player pool in the new Under-12 program of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA).

All of that comes on top of a year in which Seattle United won a slew of state cups, sent seven teams to Far West Regionals, and the B98 Copas were runners-up nationally while becoming the first Washington team to claim a prestigious Dallas Cup championship.

“These are massive steps our club has taken,” says Ralph Black, Boys Coaching Director. “We’re all in.”

“Our teams have become regionally competitive,” adds Alex Chursky, Boys U13-15 Director, “and our goal is to become one of the top clubs in the nation.”

But beyond the titles and trophies, outsiders have also taken notice of the qualities of players coming through the Seattle United system. Marc Nicholls, Sounders FC Academy’s technical director, surveyed his ranks.

 

Quality Shines Through

“About a third of our players are from Seattle United, and obviously that’s a significant amount from one club,” notes Nicholls, “and those players tend to be extremely competitive, very committed and have a high work rate. Each player’s different, but that is who they are.

“Seattle United get the most out of their players, and my impression is that the players really enjoy that environment.”

With the club and its coaches focused on providing each player a positive experience, Sounders and Reign representatives quickly recognized qualities all too unique in the youth landscape. Elsewhere it may be frowned upon, but United players participate in other sports and compete for their schools.

Black played four different sports growing up in California. He credits basketball specifically for helping develop his footwork. Black’s pro career lasted 19 years.

 

Like Minds

“We needed a progressive, forward-thinking club to partner with,” explains Reign Academy TD Tracey Kevins, “and we’re really excited that Seattle United has been so welcoming in our different thinking. With Laura (Harvey, Reign head coach) and I being European based, we come with a slightly different view of development.”

United’s relationship with the city’s professional clubs goes far beyond wearing their colors into competition. There’s interaction between coaching staffs, enabling directors and coaches to glean volumes of valuable knowledge, and put it into practice in teaching teams at every level.

Says Chursky: “We’ve supported any kind of elite level soccer available to our kids and never gotten in the way of them pursuing that. That’s very visible.”

“We’re committed to making sure we have offerings for every single one of our players, from the lowest level to the highest level,” SU technical director Jason Farrell affirms.

 

Double the Opportunities

Seattle United’s entry into the new U12 DA system provides an earlier, broader pathway for players to reach for their dreams. A total of 26 players–double that of any other Washington club–will get the opportunity to participate, beginning in 2016/17. More focused on player development and improving coaching quality, the academy group will face six other local clubs throughout the state in a league program separate from the Regional Club League.

Black and Nicholls see the greater emphasis on younger age groups as the next step in America addressing this critical time in an individual’s development. U12, says Black, is generally the age when, kids get more serious about one sport, or at least adopt a pecking order.

While the U12 DA entry is new, stressing new methods of teaching the game by innovative means was already a hallmark of Seattle United. Nicholls believes the Sounders association can only fortify those efforts.

 

Doing It Differently

“Aren’t we obliged to make that first environment for our youngest kids, the best it can be,” he asks. “The resource allocation in youth soccer is very heavy toward the elite, but the formative years are the most important. So let’s do something different and invest in them.”

Other clubs may join this endeavor to affect a player’s pathway at the origin, but the difference, says Black, is Seattle United’s exclusive partnership with the Sounders. “They picked us to use our U8-12 program as their pre-academy,” he says, “because we are different.”

Jared Micklos, U.S. Soccer’s DA Director, maintains that amateur and professional clubs working in concert can only help. He says affiliations are a “critical component of developing the individual player,” adding, “We expect and encourage clubs to work together so the player has an individual pathway to develop to their highest ability.”

 

Girls Unlimited

The goal of making sure Seattle United has offerings for every single player at every level, is made manifest by associating with the Reign. “The one part that was missing was our elite level girls offering,” admits Farrell. “Internally, this certainly checks that box for us.”

It’s a relationship that promises to go far beyond the U13-18 academy teams wearing Reign’s distinctive jerseys.

“We have a vision,” shares Kevins, “of having a U8 Seattle United girl going all the way through, joining the academy, and when she reached U18 having the option of going pro with Seattle Reign, or she goes off to college and then comes back to become a Reign player.”

Within a couple years, Farrell sees the connection making Seattle United a destination club for girls with lofty ambitions. The Reign’s effect is already a reality, with head coach Laura Harvey attending matches and interacting with coaches.

“She jumped in with both feet,” exclaims Farrell. “She’s made herself visible. The girls have seen her and are super excited. There’s a tangible feel to it already.”

 

True to their Roots

Club president Steve Morrissey is confident the new programs and relationships can be smoothly integrated into current activities. It’s an honor to be chosen by the Sounders and Reign, and they plan to make the most of the opportunity.

“We are striving for excellence in everything we do,” Morrissey says, “while delivering a great program to all the players in the club and making club soccer as financially accessible as possible for everyone who wants to play.”

Six years on, Seattle United is serving nearly 2,200 kids, providing a world-class city with a club within reach of anyone and enabling each of those boys and girls to go after their dreams. Whatever playing level the team, whatever the family’s resources (more than $600,000 in financial aid to all that qualify, to date), it is a club of opportunity for all.

 More than anything, Seattle United coaching director Jimmy McAlister wants the club to be regarded as a community asset. The relationships with the Sounders, Reign and Development Academy will earn headlines, and tournament and cup wins will fill trophy cases. However, the club will stay true to its original objective.

 “We’re a progressive club, and it’s an exciting time for Seattle United, ” says McAlister. “It’s all about remaining focused on our charge: Creating a place for everyone to play, developing those players and, at the end of the day, helping them reach their goals.”