Sounders U-23 coach Darren Sawatzky is asked which member of his club is going to become this season’s DeAndre Yedlin.
Sawatzky’s first reaction is a laugh. Yedlin, after all, jumped directly from the U-23s last season to a starting spot with Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer.
However, Sawatzky’s primary job is developing young talent, so he doesn’t laugh long.
“There are some good players,” he said. “Our academy guys, we’ve got guys on the young side: Michael Gallager and Ian Lange (and Darwin Jones) will be playing for us, and they’re very good. Those are all guys that we know. But there’s also Aodhan Quinn and Eric Stevenson from Akron (who) are very good players. We’ll see. Somebody always surprises us.”
The surprises could begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium in Sumner, where Sounders U-23 meets Doxa Italia of Southern California in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup.
“They’re a men’s league team that plays games year-round, so it will really depend on how fit they are and who they decide to add to their roster for the Open Cup,” Sawatzky said. “We know a little bit about them, but men’s league teams are a little bit of unknowns.”
Sawatzky naturally preaches taking them one at a time. But his players know one of the intriguing possibilities of U.S. Open Cup: Keep winning, and Sounders U-23 could find itself playing the MLS Sounders.
“You know what: That’s up to these kids,” Sawatzky said. “The reality is if we can get out of that first game with all these kids getting to learn each other’s names during the first game, then we would fly down to North Carolina to play Charlotte, which is a pro team.
“Once you pay players, you’re paying them for a reason, so it would be upset time. We’ll see.”
Win or not, Sounders U-23 will face a quick turnaround because the club will open defense of its Premier Development League Northwest Division title Thursday in Portland.
Again this year, the U-23s will face a nomadic schedule with home games in Sumner, University Place, Tukwila and Tumwater.
“The under-23 team is really a developmental team — it fills the gap between the academy and the first team right now,” Sawatzky said. “Playing at different venues — on Thursday we’ll play at Portland in front of upwards of 10,000 people — these are all different things that these players get to see that is good for their development.”
After training with the MLS Sounders last week, Yedlin said his time with the U-23s was useful to his development.
“Playing down there for all of our games was big,” he said. “It was a really good experience. … They’re going to be a great team, and I’m excited to watch them”
Sounders U-23 SCHEDULE
Thursday, 7 p.m.at Portland (Jeld-Wen Field)
Sunday, 1 p.m.at Victoria (Royal Athletic Park)
May 24, 7 p.m.Kitsap (Curtis HS)
May 31, 8 p.m.Washington (Starfire)
June 2, 2 p.m.Vancouver (Sumner HS)
June 5, 7:30 p.m.North Sound (Sumner HS)
June 9, 2 p.m.Portland (Tumwater HS)
June 15, 8 p.m.Washington (Starfire)
June 21, 7 p.m.at Vancouver (TBD)
June 30, 6 p.m.at Washington (Redmond HS)
July 4, 4 p.m.at North Sound (Edmonds Woodway HS)
July 7, 2 p.m.Victoria (Sumner HS)
July 13, 7 p.m.at Kitsap (Gordon Park)
July 16, 7 p.m.at Portland (Hillsboro HS)
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer