The Sounders U23 have won the Premier Development League Western Conference Championship and have booked their place in the PDL National Final Four. The Sounders U23 played the Portland Timbers U23 last week in the PDL Northwest Division play in game and won 4-1 which sent them to Tucson, Arizona along with FC Tucson, Burlingame Dragons, and the Kitsap Pumas to battle for the Western Conference title. All games were played at Kino Sports Complex.
The first game on Friday night, July 24th, pitted the Sounders U23 against the Southwest Division Champions, the Burlingame Dragons. After an early flurry from Burlingame, the Sounders U23 took control of possession and started to attack the Burlingame goal. Guillermo Delgado hit the back of the net after a crafty individual effort from Florian Valot released Delgado into space and he hammered home the only goal of the game.
The Kitsap Pumas, Regular Season Champions of the PDL Northwest Division, then took on FC Tucson in the second game on Friday night. FC Tucson made their presence known early as Ozzie Ramos dropped an absolute cracker in the 15th minute past PDL Goalkeeper of the year Matt Grosey from 25 yards out. The game was all FC Tucson after that with the team rattling off four unanswered goals against a Kitsap team that had only been scored on four times total on the year. Pedro Espindola had a hat trick for the home town team. The final score ended 4-1 for FC Tucson.
With a quick turnaround, both teams set up for a 7:30pm final on Saturday July 24th. Coach Rick Schantz rolled the same lineup he had played the previous night looking for more magic from his young team. The Sounders U23 made a few changes to their team for the final and the changes paid immediate dividends. Joey Gjertsen whipped in a cross in the second minute and Kento Sakurai bashed home a goal to put the away team up 1-0 early.
“I saw Kento make the run and I played in behind the back line,” said Gjertsen, “He did well to finish and we were on our way.”
FC Tucson pressed and played their possession based game creating chances against a disciplined Sounders U23 team. Jeff Caldwell made a save to the lower right corner in the 16th minute that had the crowd utter a collective sigh. The game opened up toward the end of the first half and just before half time, FC Tucson tied the game after a poorly cleared corner was crossed back into the box and the ensuing scramble saw the ball hit the back of the net. The teams went into half time with a score of 1-1.
In the second half, the Sounders U23 made changes early bringing on relief for tired legs. Both teams pressed for the winner but the second game in two days saw the energy get sapped from both groups and forced the coaches to go to their benches. With ten minutes remaining in the game, Valot swung a corner in from the right side to Troy Peterson who struck a quality shot toward the lower right corner. FC Tucson cleared it off the line to Jonathan Campbell who made no mistake and ripped the ball into the ceiling of the goal to put the Sounders U23 up 2-1. The game saw three corner kicks for the home team before the referee blew the final whistle. The Sounders U23 won the Western Conference Championship over host FC Tucson and booked their place in the PDL Final Four.
“I am very happy for the players who have worked hard this summer,” explained Darren Sawatzky, Sounders U23 head coach, “To come down here and win two games on back to back days shows the character they have developed.”
The Sounders U23 join KW-United, Ocala Stampede, and the winner of today’s match between the New York Red Bull U23 and Jersey Express. The United Soccer Leagues will announce the host location shortly for the PDL Final Four.