MLS Soccer

Sounders will operate USL Pro team in Tukwila next season

Before Federal Way’s Lamar Neagle was ready to become a starting midfielder for the Seattle Sounders FC first team, the club sent him to find playing time in Charleston, South Carolina.

Next season, such a player would simply be sent across the Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila to Sounders FC 2, a developmental team that will play in the USL Pro league starting next season.

The creation of the new club, called S2, was revealed Tuesday at Seattle Center.

“Next year in Major League Soccer it will be mandated that each team needs to run a USL Pro franchise or partner with a USL Pro franchise,” Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “… We are proud to announce the formation of S2 and complete a player-development program that starts with our academy and ends with the Sounders FC first team.”

S2 will replace the team the Sounders had fielded in the MLS Reserve League. In their recently completed season, those reserves played just seven games. USL Pro, which is considered third-division in the Unites States soccer pyramid, played 28-game schedules in 2014.

“Sometimes it’s a big jump from college to the pros,” Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes it’s an even bigger jump from the academy to the pros. Being able to have our USL team and our own second team here bridges that gap and gives us that opportunity.”

S2 will play and train at Starfire Sports Complex, allowing interaction and flexibility with the Sounders’ first team.

Schmid cited Neagle as an established player who could have benefited from S2, and current players Damion Lowe, Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovas as prospects who could have developed further this season.

“If we’re short on players in training we can bring up two, three, four guys and bring them into our training,” Schmid said. “If we see somebody who’s doing really well in the Sounders 2 team we can bring him up to our training. We can bring him up and put him into our 18 for a game. So there are great opportunities that present themselves for the growth and development of the players, and the continued growth and development of our organization and our club. So it was a missing link, and it was an important part that we got covered.”

The S2 coaching staff has not yet been named. However, the general manager will be Andrew Opatkiewicz, who has a decade of sports industry experience including time with Seattle Wolves FC of the USL Premier Development League.

Sounders FC also announced that it has donated 20 percent of S2 ownership to a fan-owned organization called the Sounders Community Trust.

Hanauer added there could be improvements in the Starfire infrastructure, upgrading items such as locker facilities for players, and improved concessions and restrooms for fans. However, he said it is unlikely those changes will be in place for S2’s 2015 debut.

USL Pro mandates that all league games be streamed online, and Hanauer said some S2 games also could be televised.

Hanauer said he did not know if S2 would affect Sounders FC’s relationship with Pierce County-based Sounders U-23 of the PDL.

ON THE PITCH

The Sounders went through another training session Tuesday in advance of their Sunday match at Los Angeles, where a win would wrap up the Supporters’ Shield. “I thought training was very, very good,” Schmid said. “I thought the guys were really in tune, really into it. We know what’s in front of us. We’re excited about it. It’s a great opportunity, and we’re going to have a lot of fun with it.” … Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso trained to the side for most of the session, but Schmid said that was just scheduled time off and unrelated to any significant injury. … Schmid also said forward Clint Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin will return Wednesday from U.S. national team duty in Florida. The team has an off day Thursday, but Dempsey and Yedlin are expected to be part of Friday training and be available for the game against the Galaxy. “It won’t be a problem,” he said. “They’ve been with us all year. They’re with the U.S. tonight, and then they’ll come and they’ll rejoin us. It will be seamless with them coming back in.”

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