For the Seattle Sounders under-15/16 team of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the best offense has been a good defense.
Since losing 2-1 to Northwest Conference West Division nemesis Cal Odyssey (2-2, 4-8), the Seattle Sounders (3-1-1, 8-2-2) have won six straight matches.
Much of the Sounders' success stems from their confidence on the defensive side of the field, where Jalen Markey and Ryan Harber stand 6-foot-2 and weigh 175 pounds a piece, and Mark Matula and Kyle Bjomenthun are each at 5-11.
"We're pretty big in the back, so teams can't really play balls across because we're all really good in the air," said Markey, a high school junior at O'Dea (Seattle, Wash.) who ranks third on the Sounders in scoring with three goals. "It's also very hard to get behind us, because our outside backs like Kyle, Mark and Ryan, they're really fast and strong in the back."
Markey and Kyle Bjomenthun (two goals) are also capable scorers, while also putting the lock down on offenders along with Matula, Harber, Jacob Hauser and Troy McCarty in front of keepers Connor Adkinson and Trevor Larson.
"We like to get our outside defenders forward and involved in the attack," said coach Dick McCormick. "Our philosphy is to try to play an attacking style and that mindset of soccer all of the time."
Center midfielder Duncan McCormick has five goals and receives balanced support from forwards David Olsen (four goals) and Dennis Kalamar (two), and midfielders Isidirio Prado-Herta (three) and Michael Steele (three).
"We like to execute our offense with good possessions, so that we're scoring goals on purpose rather than just a big kick that bounces off of their defender and then we get it," Dick McCormick said. "We like to get good numbers forward and to keep people around the ball so that we can get to it and score from there."
That approach distributes the scoring pressure and makes virtually every man on the field a threat to put the ball away, as indicated by the Sounders' receiving one goal each from forwards Miguel Medina and James Molyneaux-Elliot, and midfielders Joseph Mancini, James Nosack and Jason McGlothem.
"Right now, I think that the team is sort of coming through well as a group. I think that we've had five or six wins in a row, and the big part of that is that in the beginning of the season, we just didn't know each other," Dick McCormick said.
"People are establishing their roles, and learning their roles within the team," he added. "I think that if you pull one or two kids out, it might effect our tempo a little bit. But overall, I think that we're a pretty solid group all the way around."
The Sounders' depth will no doubt be tested on Dec. 17 when they face their division rival the Vancouver Whitecaps (3-0, 6-2-2).
Led by top scorer Brody Huitema with seven goals, the Whitecaps have outscored their three division opponents by a combined 8-0.
"We play Vancouver in two weeks, and we look forward to that game quite a bit. We played them last year a couple of times before they were in the league and they one once and we won once. We feel that we know their style of play. They play a 4-3-3, which is pretty possession-oriented," Dick McCormick said.
"They've got some pretty fast players on the wings and they'll go to spread us out, they'll work hard and they will be organized," Dick McCormick said. "Playing the Whitecaps is a test and a steppingstone to find out what we need to do to compete with the top teams. We want to get better coming out of that game."
Markey goes a step farther.
"They're like our rival, even though they're new to the Academy. We want to get the win to show that we're the best team in the Northwest," Markey said. "I think that we're good enough to do that, but we know that they're a great team, and if we win, that will show to us that we're good enough to win the national championship this year."