Local ties still strong for Sounders

Many Clark County standouts play for Sounders academy

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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Though his loyalty leans toward the rave green, Keenan Townsend isn’t caught up in the rivalry between the Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers.

When the Major League Soccer rivals clash Sunday afternoon in Portland, Townsend’s focus will be on a match in Wisconsin.

Townsend and fellow Skyview student James Nosack play for the Sounders FC under-16 team. Townsend, entering his senior year, plays goalkeeper. Nosack, a junior-to-be, plays all three left-side positions.

Beginning Sunday, Nosack and Townsend will be competing with seven other teams for the United States Soccer Development Academy (USSDA) national championship in Milwaukee.

Townsend, who has been on the team for a full year, has played every playoff minute. He posted two shutouts as the Sounders FC won three matches in a playoff tournament at Frisco, Texas, to earn a spot in the national finals.

“I had a gut feeling we were going to win,” he said.

A stop on a breakaway early in the first playoff match against the Columbius Crew Soccer Academy set the stage for a successful playoff run. The Sounders beat the Crew 3-0, and followed with a 1-0 win over Empire United and a 4-1 win over the DC United 15-16 team.

Nosack, who is among the younger players on the team, was invited to join the Sounders team in February after helping his Washington Olympic Development Program team finish second in the nation.

He has been with the full-time Sounders for about two months. As one of the newcomers to the squad, he has played mostly in a reserve role.

The Sounders under-18 academy team, including recent Camas graduate Drew White and Columbia River’s Justin Solomon, narrowly missed qualifying for the finals.

The teams qualified for the playoffs in Texas based upon their standing in USSDA league play.

Darren Sawatzky, director of youth development for Sounders FC, said the playoff success is a promising first step for the Sounders Academy.

“Our expectation here is to be the No. 1 youth academy, not only in the United States, but worldwide,” Sawatzky said. “We understand that it’s going to take some time.”

Clark County players have been a part of the Sounders Academy program since it was formed in 2009. For a year, the Sounders had a regional training center in Vancouver to identify and develop potential players.

In partnership with Washington Youth Soccer’s Elite Development Program, the Sounders FC Academy switched from the regional training center model to a system of regional tryouts for boys and girls, with selected players then training once each month together in a central location.

Players selected to the Sounders FC Academy rosters make a greater commitment, practicing several days each week at Tukwila and traveling to weekend games.

Sawatzky said the Sounders still consider the entire state their territory, and that players from Clark County will be welcome to try out for Sounders Academy teams.

The Sounders will hold open tryouts July 18 at the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila for its 2011-12 under-16 and under-18 teams. This year’s Washington Youth Soccer EDP tryouts in Vancouver are scheduled for Aug. 15.

In his first full year with the Sounders FC Academy, Townsend said it is the highest level of soccer he has experienced — including playing on state Olympic Development Program teams.

“The speed of play is a lot faster,” Townsend said. “It’s a lot better than high school (soccer). It’s as high as I can go right now without turning pro.”

Playing at high-level tournaments is also a chance to be seen by college coaches. Townsend said he hasn’t yet made a college choice.

Townsend said the demands of playing with the Sounders Academy — including traveling from Vancouver to Tukwila as many as four days a week for practices — helped make him a more responsible, more focused person.

Over the next week, Townsend, Nosack and their Sounders FC Academy teammates will be focused on a special opportunity — competing for a national championship.