TUKWILA, WA—(club release) On Sunday afternoon, March 29, 2015 Clement Simonin started for Toronto FC in their regular season MLS match versus Real Salt Lake. Simonin started and played 90 minutes in the loss but relishes the opportunity after working hard at NC State and with the Sounders U23 in 2014.
“The chance I had to get drafted in the first round of the draft comes mostly from my experience with the Sounders U23. I got the opportunity to play in a very special and competitive environment every day in training and games,” explained Simonin.
On Sunday evening, Darwin Jones suited up for S2, the Sounders FC USL team. Jones, the former Sounders U23 and Sounders FC home grown player, scored a hat trick to down the Vancouver Whitecaps USL side. Jones started as a youth premier player at Highline Premier FC, a club run previously by current Sounders U23 GM/Head Coach Darren Sawatzky, before moving to Washington Premier FC and eventually into the Sounders FC Academy.
Simonin and Jones are part of a long list of Sounders U23 players that have made the jump from the Premier Development League (PDL) team to the professional ranks. The Sounders U23 is an independently owned club team operated by owners Lane Smith, Cliff McElroy, and Mike Jennings. The team is managed and coached by Sawatzky who also ran the Sounders FC Academy from 2008 through 2014.
“Helping players move from our PDL program to the professional leagues in this country and abroad is something we take great pride in,” explained Lane Smith, Co-owner, “We want to win games, but we know our place in the developmental pyramid and we love seeing DeAndre (Yedlin) at the World Cup and more recently, Clement start for Toronto.”
The Sounders U23 started in 2012 after taking over for the Tacoma Tide in the PDL. Since the 2012 season where the Sounders U23 won the Northwest Division title, the Western Conference Championship, and eventually lost in the national semifinals to FC London, twenty eight players have been drafted into MLS or signed professional contracts in the US or abroad. Currently, Jeff Caldwell and Jordan Morris were called into the US Men’s National U20 and U23 teams respectively. Both players played roles last summer for Sounders U23 and are slated to return in 2015. Morris was invited this week to the full national team after his goal and assist for the U23’s last week versus Bosnia.
“Players need the opportunity to be challenged in order to grow and develop. The northwest division in the PDL has a pro team, two MLS affiliate teams, and very organized independent clubs that make it very competitive,” added Sawatzky, “With the training and game competition, this is a great place to help the players add the final pieces before they jump to the professional ranks.”
DeAndre Yedlin, Sean Okoli, Aaron Kovar, and Darwin Jones have all signed home grown contracts with Sounders FC and all played significant roles in the Sounders U23 team. Yedlin has since sky rocketed to the US National Team and a transfer to Tottenham in the English Premier League. Yedlin played every minute of the 2012 PDL Season for Sounders U23. Okoli was traded this year to New England and played against Sounders FC in the MLS mach earlier this month. Kovar and Jones continue to shine for both the Sounders FC first team and the S2 USL side. Kovar impressed with his recent performance against Club Tijuana Xolos then played against FC Dallas in the MLS fixture a few days later.
Many other Sounders U23 players have made the leap through the MLS draft. Fernando Monge (Montreal) led the early charge in 2012, with Sean Morris (Seattle/Auckland FC-Australia), Aodhan Quinn (Philadelphia/Orlando City-USL), Eric Stevenson (NYRB), Taylor Peay (Portland), Anthony Arena (Houston/Pittsburgh-USL), Earl Edwards (Orlando City), Simonin (Toronto), Lucas Baldin (Real Salt Lake), Miguel Aguilar (DC United), and Doug Herrick (MLS League GK/Charlotte Eagles-USL/Guam National team) finding homes in the professional game.
Not every player makes the complete transition to MLS, but they have used the Sounders U23 team as a catalyst to the next level in the other professional leagues offered in the US. Jamael Cox (Tampa-NASL), Josh Phillips (Colorado Switchbacks-USL), Adam West (Louisville City-USL), Zac Lubin (Tulsa-USL), David Geno (Charlotte Eagles-USL), Oscar Jimenez (Tulsa-USL), Miguel Gonzalez (Colorado Switchbacks-USL), Zev Taublieb (Sacramento-USL), and Jake Feener (Tulsa-USL) have all played for the Sounders U23 and Sawatzky before leaving for the next level.
Finally, the road less traveled is also represented well for Sounders U23. Yedlin headlines the players and is currently playing in England, where Derek Johnson and Miles Byass both accepted contracts and played in Sweden. Chris Brundage played for two professional seasons in Finland and Abdul Aman is currently in Fiji playing for Fiji Suva.
“Our goal with the Sounders U23 team is player’s first,” explains Cliff McElroy Co-owner, ”We do everything we can to help them grow and move on to the highest levels of the game. We hope they all make it out in front of 45,000 fans at Century Link, but if they do not , we want them to chase their careers.”
The 2015 Sounders U23 PDL season starts on May 24th when they host the newest member of the Northwest Division, Calgary Foothills. Come watch the future of professional soccer in the United States and Canada as the young guns bring their fight for another PDL summer.
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