Exit interviews, part 1: The young guys

In many ways, 2021 was the Seattle Sounders’ first attempt at the youth movement. While they’ve long had several rosters dedicated to HomeGrown players, this year they’re not only younger than ever, they’ve already played. The Sounders gave five teens at least one start and joined in to play 2,850 minutes. This part of the list accounts for about 12% of the team’s minutes.

In the first of a three-part series, we look at the performance and potential future of each player who appeared on the first team. This is basically the complementary part of the roster, featuring players who came through the Sounders Academy, Tacoma Defiance, and the U22 Initiative. In later parts of the series, we’ll explore the core of the roster and the highest-paid players.

One important statistic: Set your S2 / Defiance franchise record at 13 goals.

Quick analysis: Signed to two separate “hardship summons” contracts, Adeniran spent most of the season with Defiance as he nearly led them to the playoffs. In his first-team debut, Adeniran appeared in excellent shape against Austin FC.

prospectsAt the start of the season, Adiniran put himself in a lot of good positions without the end product. As the season went on, he began to finish off an impressive clip, albeit against USL competition. He’s a willing defender, not afraid to use his body and quick and sneaky for a player of his size. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see him on the MLS roster next year.

One important statistic: Covered 11.21 km per 90, which is the second highest in all MLS.

Quick analysisThe 19-year-old started the year with just 14 minutes of the NBA, but managed to win a starter position in the season opener. At times, he looked ready to emerge as a guaranteed starting player, but he struggled with some of his defensive responsibilities and became increasingly shy with the ball at the end of the season.

prospects: Growth has rarely been completely linear and some difficulties were to be expected. Atencio is not the fastest side player but he is among the league leaders in the floor covered every 90 minutes. He appears to be someone the Sounders can build around, whether it’s an outside center back or a deeper midfielder.

One important statisticHe became the second youngest player (16 years, 343 days) to score a goal for the Sounders organization.

Quick analysis: He never actually appeared with the first team but worked a few seats after signing ‘hardship’ contracts. He made 12 starts and scored 921 minutes in his first professional season with Defiance.

prospects: Sounders seem to really like the 17-year-old from Walla Walla. He moves well and is smooth on the ball, but he’s small and not yet ready to beat that. Worth a follow up but probably not someone we’d expect to produce MLS soon.

One important statistic: Averaged 35 projected goals per 90 in about 200 MLS minutes. Aside from his small sample size, he is the fourth highest on the team.

Quick analysis: After training with the first team last year and throughout pre-season, it wasn’t necessarily a huge surprise that the Sounders signed RBW aged 16. Despite making two starts and scoring 204 minutes of MLS this year, he somewhat lost dribbling between the first team and Tacoma Defiance playing just 836 minutes.

prospects: There is every reason to believe that RBW has the skills to be a viable professional and is already linked to many of the top European clubs. In its early days MLS, in particular, you can see its football instincts are present. However, the fact that he did not score a professional goal or assist, indicates the difficulty of transitioning into the professional game at such a young age. He will definitely be back, but he may have at least another year of learning in Defiance before making a real MLS-level impact.

One important statistic: The actual Chu g + a/90 and xg + xa/90 were both above 1.00.

Quick analysis: The first of many likely signed U22 players by Sounders, Chú has made more of an impact than many of us expected. He played only more than 200 minutes in all competitions, but managed to directly participate in three goals. His goals + assists per 90 in MLS play were 1.18 and his unexpected penalty goals + assists per 90 were 1.09 – both of which do not include assists in playing the League Cup – both of which put him among the most proficient players in MLS (small sample – size and all).

prospects: I know a lot of people wanted to see Cho get more time, but perhaps it’s no surprise that a 21-year-old with no experience outside of his home country has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to adapting to a new environment. If he follows that path, he will likely have a bigger role next year and could look like an absolute $2.5 million heist.

One important statistic: Was he the youngest player the Sounders ever made to at least two central defenders.

Quick analysis: The latest in a growing line of international players who have come through Defiance, he ended up playing the great center back nearly 1,000 minutes of MLS. There were certainly some difficulties, especially when he was isolated by faster players, but overall he kept on his own despite often playing alongside his similarly inexperienced teammates.

prospects: Still 21 years old – younger than most test picks – there is a lot of potential for growth. I don’t think he’ll be a regular MLS player on a championship-caliber team right away, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a regular part of the rotation for many years to come.

One important statistic: Now record over 1,600 professional minutes before turning 19.

Quick analysis: While learning a new position, the 18-year-old has two starts, 181 minutes from the MLS, 181 minutes from the start and 783 minutes from the USL Championship. Most of that time came as right back, but he also saw some time in more advanced positions. The good news is that it seemed to grow to the center as the season progressed, even if it wasn’t particularly productive.

prospects: The biggest question about Dobbelaere is what position he will play at the MLS level. If the Sons stick to a three-back formation, the full-back looks like a good place to be but it’s not clear that he has the defensive pieces to play in a four-back line. The good news is that he has plenty of time to find out.

One important statistic: He only started once during the year-long loan.

Quick analysis: an unclear role with the first team and was loaned to San Antonio FC where he only had one start and less than 200 minutes.

prospects: It’s hard to see him return to the Sounders and face an uncertain career future.

One important statistic: His average pressure is 28.27 per 90 minutes, and he’s among the best in the Sounders.

Quick analysisThe 18-year-old has established himself as a regular member of the rotation and has now played over 3,000 professional minutes in his career. He was an active defender and an accurate passer.

prospects: The big question surrounding Leva is his position. He’s a reasonably good link, but he’s neither a playmaker nor an active defender – not someone like a classic 6. He recently got a call to the US Under-20, which shows his potential. He could be a key player in the midfield for years to come.

One important statisticHe hit his highs by saving 72% of the shots he faced.

Quick analysis: He spent the year on loan to the San Diego Loyal at the USL Championship and made 15 starts, going 6-6-2 with 1.53 goals against average. Unfortunately, he got injured in August and hasn’t played since.

prospects: While this seems like a solid step forward for the 22-year-old, it’s hard to tell where he is in the Sounders’ depth chart. He’s definitely behind Frye and Cleveland, he’s probably behind Spencer Ritchie and he’s probably behind Andrew Thomas. Depending on how the roster rocks during the holiday season, it’s not hard to imagine him returning on loan next year or even being traded/transferred.

One important statistic: He started only three matches when he was on loan to FC Binzgau Salfelden.

Quick analysis: It wasn’t long ago that Ocampo Chavez played in the U-17 World Cup and was one of the best potential players at the Sounders. But he has had a difficult experience since then. Ocampo Chavez spent the first part of the year mostly with Defiance, participating in 10 matches and scoring two goals. Then he went on loan to the Austrian third division with FC Pinzgau-Saalfelden, where he played 13 matches and scored one goal, recording only 345 minutes.

prospects: It’s still only 19 years old so it would be silly to delete it completely, but I have to think the Sounders are looking for something they’re not really getting right now. I guess the best case scenario is that he finds a place where he can get regular minutes next year.

One important statistic: He had three closes in seven for Defiance.

Quick analysis: Captured in some weird mid-season drafts, Thomas looked really good on the seven starts of the Challenge. He went 3-1-3 and only allowed four goals during a period when Defiance looked like they would easily qualify for the USL Championship playoffs. Unfortunately, the injury toppled him for a year.

prospects: I really liked what I saw from Thomas, that I think there is a good chance even of winning a spare job next season. At the very least, I think it makes it very easy to lose Cleveland and maybe Tree Mews have jumped on the depth chart.

One important statistic: Became the youngest player ever to play with Sounders.

Quick analysis: You will be excused for not hearing about the 15-year-old Alaskan before his debut. But he was there, the third youngest player to appear in an MLS match when he started against Austin FC. Vargas didn’t exactly shine in that game or any of his 19 starts in Defiance, but at least he looks like a part of a future MLS player. Vargas moves well, isn’t afraid to interfere, and is solid on the ball even if he lacks the final product.

prospects: Given the speed at which he has risen through the Sounders organization, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him sign a permanent first-team deal over the next year but it’s hard to imagine him contributing at that level soon.

One important statistic: His three-passes are tied for second place in Defiance.

Quick analysis: The domestic player appeared twice off the bench as ‘Another Hardship Call’ with 28 appearances and 1,878 minutes in the USL Championship. With Defiance, Villanueva had two goals and three assists while playing as a left-back.

prospects: The 19-year-old plays a lot of what I think kids call “sauce”. He is not afraid to attack with dribbling and is well suited as a wing-back. It’s hard to imagine him contributing regularly to the MLS by next year, but it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if he had already started with the first team.

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