Sunday, April 21, 2019
At age 16 Moses Lake product and former U12-U14 Spokane Shadow player Ray Serrano continues to be a groundbreaker. On Saturday he rose above a Valencia CF defender in the final seconds of overtime to head home the 1-0 championship-winning goal to lead the U17 Sounders Academy side to the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division title - a first for Major League Soccer, which had never even seen an academy team reach the final of the prestigious international event before.
Fourteen months ago at age 15 he signed a professional contract with S2 (now Tacoma Defiance), making him the youngest player in Sounders club history to sign a professional deal with the first or second team. He made three appearances for the professional side on the season.
The path to the Champions Division title began a year ago when the team won the Premier Division of the event. This year the squad qualified for the top tier with Brazil's Flamengo, Spain's Valencia CF and fellow MLS side Montreal Impact in their group. After an initial 1-0 loss to future finalist Valencia in their opener, the young Sounders downed Flamengo 1-0 in the second match copied the result against Montreal to reach the quarterfinals where they edged Argentine giants River Plate, again 1-0. Serrano set up the Sounders' second goal with a fantastic play to deliver a cross in the semifinal as they handily defeated English side West Ham 4-0 to set up a rematch with Valencia in the Final.
The championship adds to a legacy for this squad that includes the 2018 USSDA National Championship, 2017 Youdan Trophy (v Wolves, FC Basel & Everton) and the previously mentioned GA Cup Premier Division title.
Ray's Path 2 Pro
Serrano joined the Spokane Shadow as a U12 player in 2014 from Moses Lake. Fully committed, he never missed a training session and often stayed to work with older teams in additional sessions. He showed promise early on and was already considered a prospect to move onto the Sounders Academy when the partnership with the Seattle Sounders was being put together in 2016. Less than six months after donning a Spokane Sounders jersey with the U14s, he was off to Seattle to join the Academy.
"Ray's dedication to improve was inspirational. He took advantage of every single minute he could on and off the pitch to get better," said Faridnia at the time he signed the pro deal. "He obviously possessed great talent, but was not content with being satisfactory and used the resources of our club also and from the quality opposition he faced in the RCL to expand his horizons. Our burgeoning affiliation with the Sounders was perfect timing to accelerate his path to that moment."
Serrano quickly began to prove himself on the west side. As a member of the Sounders FC Academy U14 squad,Serrano excelled and also earned time with the U16 team. After impressing in his own age group, the attacking midfielder was promoted to the U15s and subsequently the U16s. While playing for the U16s in Generation Adidas Cup, he tallied a brace against San Jose Earthquakes and scored the lone goal against the youth side from Chivas de Guadalajara (Liga MX).
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In May of 2017 he was called in to the US Soccer Boys' National Team Futures Camp. In pursuit of improving US Soccer’s longer term objectives for talent identification and individual development of young players, U.S. Soccer called in a group of 64 players for that four-day camp, focusing on identifying the most talented players in the 2002 and 2003 birth years who appear to be on a later physical development path and/or are born in the second half of the year. He was called in as a midfielder for the 2002 birth year.
The ascension of the former Shadow player took another significant step November of 2017 when he was called into a U17 Men's National Team Camp and subsequently named to the 20-player roster for the 2017 Nike International Friendlies in Lakewood Ranch, FL. He was the first male player ever from the area to ever be selected to a youth or senior national team. Playing up two years in age at the Friendlies, Serrano performed well. He came on in the final 17 minutes of the first match versus England and played the full second match against the Netherlands, finishing the event with the final nine minutes off the bench against Brazil. The event kicked off the next two-year cycle for the squad, culminating in the 2019 U17 World Cup. Serrano was one of three players from the Sounders FC Academy on the team.
The following January Serrano was once again called in by the Red, White and Blue... and again for the U17 MNT. The prospect headed back to Lakewood Ranch for the first-ever Youth National Team Summit, which brought together players from the US U16, U17, U18, U19 and U20 Youth National Teams from January 2-11. The camp was designed to bring focus on integration between players, coaches and staff from the five oldest Youth National Teams, while laying the first foundational elements for qualifying the US for the 2019 FIFA U20 and U17 World Cups.