Sounders FC 2 forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez remembers the precise moment he first found out that Sounders Academy was interested in him.
Ocampo-Chavez, 13 years old at the time, was taking a nap after school. He was startled out of bed as his mom burst into his room, yelling at him to wake up. As any adolescent would do, he began mentally running through all the things for which he could be in trouble.
With tears in her eyes, his mom hugged him and said that the Sounders wanted him to fly to Seattle to go on trial with the U-15 team.
“I was scared for a moment,” recalled Ocampo-Chavez. “Then when she told me, I went from sleepy to wide awake, and I was just so excited.”
The California native spent the bulk of his early youth career playing for a Development Academy side, Merced Atlas Soccer Academy, in his hometown of Merced, California. It was with this team that Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls first spotted him.
“What immediately struck me was a kid who was playing on a team that was struggling a bit,” said Nicholls. “But no matter what, he found a way to score goals. Not only that, there was a variety to the goals he scored — he scored a header at the back post, he scored a volley at the top of the box, he scored a 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper.
“So, we brought him in and he did extremely well in the trial, and now he’s got the potential of a U-17 World Cup experience, an S2 contract, and a very promising future ahead of him.”
A dynamic, technical, and intelligent striker, Ocampo-Chavez turned plenty of heads throughout his week-long trial with the U-15s.
“It took five minutes to realize that this was a player who was the best forward in the country at his age,” said U-15 Head Coach Sean Henderson. “There are some players that everybody sees it, and he was one of them. He’s one of five or six kids coming through right now that have more potential than we’ve ever seen in Sounders Academy.”
In addition to making the Sounders, he received his first-ever U.S. Youth National Team nod with the U-14s that same week. He has since gone on to represent the Stars and Stripes at the U-14, U-15, U-16 and U-17 levels, consistently scoring goals against the likes of the Netherlands and England at the international level. At just 15 years old, he led his country to the Torneo Delle Nazioni title in Italy, which included some of the best national teams in the world, as well as a second-place finish at the U-15 CONCACAF Championships.
Helping him get acclimated to a new city, the club enrolled Ocampo-Chavez in the Homestay Program, which places out-of-market Sounders Academy signings with local families. Having such a robust support network around these young players enables them to focus solely on soccer and their development.
“We think it’s important that new players get to know their own age groups a little bit, so we started him with the U-15s,” added Nicholls. “It wasn’t long, of course, until both of those guys began starting for the U-17s at Generation Adidas Cup. I think it gave them the push they needed to raise their games and continue to develop.”
Playing two years up with the U-17s, he recorded four goals and two assists from three matches against LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and Portland Timbers.
After his breakout performances at GA Cup, Ocampo-Chavez was moved up to the U-17s full time. A couple of months later, Chris Little was brought on as the new head coach, and he was immediately impressed by his young striker.
“I came in and I’d heard a lot of good things about him,” he recalled. “When you first get an opportunity to watch him and work with him, you see has good ability in front of goal. He’s creative, has a good eye for goal, and can play with both feet. As a striker, he has a really good change of speed and direction.”
Ocampo-Chavez’s best performances came against international competition during the summer of 2017. At the Manchester City Cup, he scored a first-half hat-trick against Liga MX side Club America, arguably one of the best youth teams in the world at that age group.
Two months later, he made his professional debut at the age of 15, starting a road match for S2 against Real Monarchs SLC.
In the Youdan Trophy, he was awarded the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer, recording eight goals and four assists against European powerhouses like Celtic FC, FC Basel, and Everton FC, as the Sounders repeated as champions.
If you ask Sounders Academy and S2 coaches which facets of his game have developed the most, you’ll get 10 different answers, which indicates that he’s evolving into a well-rounded striker. A quick, intelligent player with tremendous balance, he has dramatically improved his combination play, defensive pressing, finishing, and dribbling ability.
His progress in the youth ranks was rewarded with a professional deal, with the young striker inking an S2 contract on April 10, 2018. According to Ocampo-Chavez, it was a moment he first thought could be possible one year earlier as several Sounders Academy prospects turned pro.
“When Shandon [Hopeau] signed, that was my first year with the Academy,” said Ocampo-Chavez. “And then there goes Sam Rogers [a few months later]. That same year, Azriel [Gonzalez] signed, and he’s one of my closest friends. I was like, ‘wow, I’m just one step away, so I’ve got to work even harder.’”
Ocampo-Chavez’s meteoric rise through the organization is a case of being the right player in the right place, at the right time.
As a member of the U-17 team, which stormed through the playoffs with 26 goals in six matches as they secured the USSDA national title, he’s been immersed in an environment where he has to compete for his spot every night at training. It’s instilled a mindset that, if you’re given opportunities, you have to capitalize, which was demonstrated as he tallied two goals and one assist as a substitute in the DA final against Atlanta United.
“That team is sort of an embarrassment of riches,” said S2 Assistant Coach Wade Webber. “You can’t be a luxury player on that U-17 team, and that’s so refreshing. I guarantee you that there are few situations in America, at the professional or amateur level, where a player of Alfonso’s stature — national team, accolades, the whole thing — is not an automatic first choice. When he’s on form, we don’t think there’s a better striker his age in the whole country. If he’s not on form, he won’t start. Every day it’s about proving it.”
Most talented young players struggle with the transition to the professional level, where they have to fight every day to get playing time on the weekend. But with the nightly competition on the U-17s, it’s just business as usual.
The Academy believes in exposing talented young prospects to higher levels of play. Enrolling in online school alongside fellow S2 signees Marlon Vargas and Gonzalez, under the tutelage of Sounders Academy Head of Education and Welfare Diane Carney, has given Ocampo-Chavez the flexibility in his schedule to train with S2 and the First Team in the mornings, take classes during the day, and then train with the U-17s at night.
At 14 years old, Ocampo-Chavez decided to move away from home to pursue his dreams of playing professional soccer. Now that he’s signed with S2 alongside his friends from the U-17s, he has achieved that goal. However, his years in the Sounders’ professional youth system has taught him that this is just the first step.
“I feel like it starts in the Academy, where you’ve got to earn your spot,” reflected Ocampo-Chavez. “Once you get consistent, your goal has to change to becoming a starter on S2. It takes a lot of hard work, but once you’re in that spot, you have to think about earning a spot on the First Team and being consistent throughout your career.”
There are thousands of talented young players throughout the United States, but talent alone isn’t enough. You need character to weather setbacks and the innate desire to fight for your spot every day.
At just 16 years old, Ocampo-Chavez has demonstrated that he possesses the requisite talent to be one of the top prospects for both club and country. With two years in the Sounders youth system under his belt, he’s got the support network and cultural upbringing to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.