MLS Soccer

Homegrown Okoli felt it was time to leave Sounders

The bond between Seattle Sounders FC and homegrown player Sean Okoli of Federal Way was severed because Okoli wanted out.

Last month, when Okoli was sent to the New England Revolution in a draft-day trade, it seemed the Sounders had simply calculated the advantage of dealing from their deep forward ranks to help replenish their thinner goalkeeping corps.

However, Okoli clarified Tuesday that he pushed for the deal after deciding he and his hometown team were no longer the right fit.

“I did everything I could to get a trade,” he said. “So I’m just glad it worked out. … I just felt like it wasn’t the right spot for me at my time in my career. So I would rather move somewhere else. Maybe things can be different. I felt like New England is a great opportunity for me. I have to get more games in just to grow as a player.”

Okoli, 22, had signed a homegrown contract with Seattle on Jan. 8, 2013, after attending Todd Beamer High School, the Sounders FC Academy and Wake Forest University. During his rookie season, he was called twice to the United States youth national team camp and played in the MLS Homegrown Game as part of the All-Star festivities in Portland.

However, with veteran forwards such as Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett on the roster, he appeared in only three MLS games — all off the bench.

“I was frustrated,” Okoli said. “I had to keep working, but at the end of the season when options came, I did everything I could to explore them, and I’m glad everything worked out.”

On Jan. 16, the Sounders traded him to New England for the 33rd selection in the draft, which was used to acquire Northwestern goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Miller has since elected to play in Germany, although the Sounders retain his MLS rights.

“We offered (Okoli) basically the same contract as New England ended up offering him,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “He didn’t want to sign that contract with us, so we said, ‘Hey, if there’s a team that wants you, we’ll move you and give you the opportunity to play.’ We don’t want to hold anybody hostage who doesn’t want to be there.”

Although Okoli is a long way from home, the trade reunites him with a longtime friend from Federal Way: fourth-year midfielder Kelyn Rowe.

“Sean grew up just up the street from me, before he moved to a different part of Federal Way,” Rowe said. “We’ve known each other for a very long time. He’s doing really well in camp.”

Okoli will face his former team for the first time at 5 p.m. Wednesday when the Sounders and Revolution meet in the third leg of the Desert Diamond Cup.

The teams will meet again March 8 at CenturyLink Field in the opening game of their MLS seasons, but Schmid said there is no advantage nor disadvantage to that.

“Everything changes by the time we play our first game,” he said. “Everybody right now in preseason is mixing a little bit and matching, and different groups end up playing.”

The Desert Diamond Cup concludes Saturday, with times and opponents to be determined by results. Seattle is 1-1 in the tournament and New England is 0-1-1, but Schmid clarified that the final pairings will not be fully determined by seeding.

“One of the stipulations are that they can create matchups in the last set of games so you’re not playing a team again, so you’re playing somebody different,” he said. “I think that’s what everyone wants that’s down here: You don’t want to end up playing two of the four games against the same team.”

ADDED TIME

All-Star midfielder Osvaldo Alonso rejoined his team in Tucson this week. He had remained in Seattle while recovering from a groin injury, but his rehabilitation has reached a stage where he can take part in some outdoor drills with his teammates. Schmid said Alonso’s recovery is ahead of schedule, but he is not expected to be available for the start of the season. … The Sounders will unveil new primary and alternate jerseys March 5.

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