The Seattle Sounders have a strong history of focusing on young talent and developing them through their academy. The latest such example of this is Sota Kitahara.
On Friday, the Sounders announced the signing of Kitahara to a first team contract. The deal is for two years, with club options in 2025 and 2026.
The 19-year-old is the 20th Homegrown Player in club history. He also becomes the eighth Homegrown Players to join the current roster, alongside the likes of Jordan Morris, Obed Vargas and Danny Leyva.
A long but worthwhile path
Kitahara has been with the Sounders since 2014, when he joined their discovery program. After completing his time with the academy, he played for Tacoma Defiance and spent a period on loan with FC Pinzgau Saalfelden in Austria.
Edmonds native Sota Kitahara becomes the 20th Homegrown Player in Seattle Sounders history and the eighth on the current roster, as he agrees to a two-year deal with club options in 2025 and 2026.
Kitahara is understandably delighted with the deal, which will see his ambitions come to fruition. As per Joseph Mondello of soundersfc.com, he said:
"It feels like a dream. It’s a pleasure to play for a club you’ve been supporting since you were a little kid and playing for the Academy. I’m really excited."
Senior Vice President of Soccer Operations & Sporting Director Craig Waibel shared his thoughts on the signing. As per the Sounders' communications team, Waibel said:
"We are excited to have Sota sign with the First Team. Since joining the Sounders Discovery Program in 2014, he has shown continued improvement every year at all levels of our development pathway. I believe he will be an excellent addition to an already talented midfield."
Waibel's comments regarding the midfield are relevant, with the Sounders already being stacked in the position. As such -- pending how Kitahara adapts to Major League Soccer -- it seems viable he will be going somewhere on loan again.
The Edmonds native is not exactly renowned for producing many goals or assists. Regardless, his contributions cannot be ignored.
Kitahara has established a good reputation for his work ethic and energy as a box-to-box player. He is also durable and versatile when it comes to playing in different positions on the pitch.
One of the most important and impressive aspects of Kitahara is that he does not get phased, regardless of the circumstances. In fact, he embraces whatever situation he is facing.
Consider Kitahara's comments about his loan spell in Austria. He said:
"It was my first time living alone and in a different country. Getting away from home and experiencing different things really helped. On the soccer side, playing in Europe for four months really helped me see a different culture of soccer. The coach played in a World Cup for Germany, so it was really great learning from him."
In respect of learning from a coach, Kitahara will continue to grow under Brian Schmetzer. As per the Sounders' communications team, the head coach said:
"It’s always nice to bring young players up to the First Team who have earned their way through our system. I’m excited to see how Sota contributes to the squad when we begin preseason camp."
There are of course no guarantees when it comes to how successful Kitahara will be with the Sounders. However, he is in the right environment and has the ideal mentality to at least put himself in position to succeed.
What kind of success do you predict Kitahara will have at the MLS level? More generally speaking, are you confident the Sounders will return to the playoffs next season? Let us know in the comments section below.