Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The Sounders U23 “Players First Initiative” is helping produce professionals
Former Sounders U23 Niko Hansen subbed into the Columbus Crew home game on March 25th versus the undefeated Portland Timbers with about 30 minutes left to play in the MLS game. The 1st round draft pick played well and capped off the night with a late game winner for the Crew.
Here’s some other notable Sounders U23 alumni from this week:
Each of them spent time with the Sounders U23 team on their rise to the professional soccer ranks. With the Player First Initiative, the Sounders U23 have helped put nearly 60 players into the professional ranks since 2012.
“We pride ourselves in helping with the finished product as players get ready for the professional game. There are so many opportunities for players now in the United States, so we concentrate on the pieces that prepare them for the pro game based on our experience,” explained Darren Sawatzky, Sounders U23 Head Coach and General Manager.
There are 55 active professional soccer players with a direct link to the Sounders U23 and many more that have benefitted from the environment created by the PDL club, choosing to move into coaching and into life after soccer. Seven former Sounders U23 players were drafted in the 2017 MLS Super Draft.
“My time with Darren as well as the rest of the coaching staff and players of the Sounders U23 showed me that my dream as a pro could become a reality. I learned that I could continually better myself through hard work and patience to grow a little each day. I learned that the power of “the process”, spending time learning from others each day and every day, and more importantly, learning from oneself was important. It was an amazing environment for me then, to be where I am today, and to continue my process for the future,” explained Niko Hansen from the Columbus Crew.
“Playing with the Sounders U23 was an awesome experience. It was a great environment to learn and grow as a player. You are close to an MLS side so you can watch and observe what they do and are also coached by a former MLS player. Darren gives you all the tools you need to develop and you are also playing in a competitive league with other top PDL sides,” said the Chicago Fire’s Bronico.
The experience in the PDL is unique as these players mainly come from NCAA college programs and use the PDL season as a supplement to the college experience while they gain their degree and compete in college soccer. The PDL season represents a 3-4 month time period per year that is paramount to player development. The NCAA allows limited training and competition in the spring for college players so having a professional training and competition environment in the spring and through the summer gives these players tools and continued opportunities to add the pieces needed to jump to the higher levels of the game. This makes the decision on where to work on your game during this time period each year very important for the players that want to become professionals.
Jonathan Campbell was drafted in the 2016 MLS draft by the Chicago Fire after being called in to the United States U23 National Team. His call up to the national program immediately followed the summer spent on the Sounders U23 PDL Western Conference Championship Team.
“The U23 Sounders was a great experience for me as I wanted to be around a professional environment. Darren recruited a great group of guys that were able to bond together and do well in the playoffs. The practice sessions were focused and intense, providing us with the opportunities to grow and prepare for the college season. I had a lot of fun in Seattle,” said Campbell.
With the 2017 PDL season soon to begin, the Sounders U23 team will again work to help ascending players in the United States soccer pyramid. By creating an intense, professional experience, the program will work to continue the Player First Initiate and help players move to the professional levels in the United States.
“We invest a lot of time, energy, and resources into these future pro players and we take the role of player development seriously,” said Lane Smith, Co-owner Sounders U23, “It is special to see these players battle down at Sunset Stadium and then get to see them competing in professional leagues and in the World Cup on television. These kids get to know the fans and community and then take off on their careers.”
“The chance to come back each year to play PDL with Darren and the rest of the staff allowed me to continue my development in the summer break from university. While some university players across the country were relaxing, I was training with the best guys in the country and the best from Washington. Each training and game was an opportunity to improve and the bonus of being in Seattle with my family playing for the Sounders PDL club was something I always took great pride and joy in. I can’t thank Darren and the staff enough for his investment in my future and their continued support. I will always be a Sounders U23 fan and believer in its development,” finished current Canadian U23 National Team Member and Orlando City B midfielder Jordan Schweitzer.
The Sounders U23 season kicks off the 2017 campaign with entry in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on May 10th and with the opening game for the PDL season on May 19th. Tickets and information can be found at www.soundersu23.com. Come see the future of professional soccer!
Sounders U23/Sounders Women
The Sounders U23 and Sounders Women teams are owned and operated by owners Lane Smith, Cliff McElroy, and Mike Jennings.
The Sounders U23 play in the Northwest Division of the Premier Development League (PDL) and the Sounders Women play in the WPSL. Featuring current college age amateur players with former international and professional stars, both the PDL and the WPSL provide elite amateurs the opportunity to compete while maintaining their eligibility as college student-athletes. Both the PDL and the WPSL are recognized throughout the world for providing superior competition for players, while offering affordable family entertainment for fans throughout North America. The Sounders U23 team is the direct PDL affiliate to the Sounders FC first team and USL S2 team.
Sounders U23/Sounders Women VP/GM: Darren Sawatzky (Darrens@SoundersU23.com)