Lanky, baby-faced and polite, Conor Shanosky looks every bit his age: an 18-year-old fresh out of high school with adulthood ahead of him, someone who couldn’t possibly be prepared to wade into the physical and psychological rigors of a professional soccer career.
But the same could have been said for Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, the teenagers who’ve preceded Shanosky on the path from youth academy to senior team at D.C. United over the past year and rapidly asserted themselves at the MLS level.
Besides, the latest product of United’s increasingly prolific youth program has made some grown-up decisions to reach this point so quickly.
Shanosky joined the United Academy just over a year ago, electing to pass up his senior year of soccer at Potomac Falls High School in order to concentrate on his own development. The reward has duly arrived with a spot alongside the stars he grew up watching as a DC fan in the northern Virginia suburbs.
“It was a very tough decision,” he recalled in a Wednesday morning interview at RFK Stadium. “It’s always fun to play for your high school and to be around your friends and have that atmosphere, but in the end it’s not the best thing in terms of development.
“The decision not to play for my high school and to focus on playing with the academy, training on my own and improving as a player really has paid off.”
At 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, the defensive midfielder possesses a build capable of withstanding the MLS grind – though he confesses “a little more body strength would help me” if he sees time at center back, as has been considered – and he’s made technique a personal priority on his own time.
“I always like to go out later in the evening and do work with the ball on my own,” he explained. “Pretty much every day I get with a friend and just work on the fundamentals of touch on the ball and control and all those things that are very important.”
Shanosky’s voracious appetite for improvement can be measured at both club and international levels, with his progress through DC’s system matched by a rapid rise into the United States U-20 squad under former United coach Thomas Rongen.
Despite having never taken part in the national team in prior age groups, Shanosky earned a Milk Cup roster spot this summer and played a role in the U-20 side’s championship run in the famed Northern Irish tournament.
Given that he’s ineligible to take the field for United until next season, his U-20 adventures also represent a welcome bit of match action during his current period of apprenticeship. He’ll rejoin Rongen’s group for a trip to the Cuadrangular Internacional tourney in Peru next month.
“It’s been a huge stepping stone for me and a huge learning experience,” he said. “Being around the national team, it’s a really, really good environment, very professional.
"It’s the under-20 level but pretty much everyone there is a pro. It’s amazing to play at that level. You learn so much just from being around the guys, and the coaching staff is excellent.”
Now, with several weeks of practice under his belt, Shanosky has begun to acclimate to the daily demands of the DC senior team. He faces a steep learning curve, but with contemporaries like Hamid and Najar providing vivid illustration of the potential payoff, it may only be a matter of time before yet another teenager breaks into the United first XI.
“Obviously it’s something that I want to happen, to be able to compete at the first-team level,” admitted Shanosky. “Andy and Bill have been able to do it right away and I just have to put in as much work as I can and hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.”