Despite its location deep within the ground level of RFKStadium, the atmosphere is unusually bright inside D.C. United’s Academyoffices. The change of seasonsbrings with it the promise of a new batch of players, a group that will authorthe next chapter in the history of Major League Soccer’s most successful youth development system.
“It breathes life into each team and into each coach,“ U-18coach Nolan Sheldon said from his office earlier this week. “And also into our identity as aclub. As we represent the club atthe youth level we want to make sure that our players have the same identitythat our first team has.”
With the task of producing future first-teamers serving asthe academy’s lofty focus, United has increased its efforts in identifying localyouth players that might excel in the highly competitive academy system. A dozen area coaches have teamed withthe club in creating a scouting network that reaches from Southern Virginia toPennsylvania. Ben Olsen, BrianCarroll and Santino Quaranta are all products of a region that has served the Black-and-Red well in the past and is loaded with bothplaying – and coaching – talent.
The qualities D.C.’s scouts are looking for in prospectiveplayers are as diverse as the talent base the academy is drawing from. No matter whom you talk to in eitherthe academy or front office, soccer acumen sits atop a long list of traitsimportant to the club. Though players must be both willing and physically capable of playing the aggressive,possession-dominant ideal of D.C. United, size and speed are far from the onlyways for youngsters to be noticed.
“We want tofind that young player who has a passion for the game,” noted D.C. UnitedGeneral Manager Dave Kasper. “Theymust have a smart and creative soccer brain along with a solid technicalfoundation, and be one-hundred percent committed to being the best playerpossible.”
For the rare youth that does catch United’s eye, a plethoraof challenging opportunities await. Improved competition and more regular training prepares players for thechance to eventually play in reserve matches and train with the firstteam. International travel pitsthe academy’s players opposite the best in the world, offering them a level ofplay unparalleled on the local scene.
“In a lot of other countries, players are developing at ayounger age and at a much more rapid pace,” acknowledged U-16 coach TomTorres, who also serves as the club's chief youth scout. “For our players to getexposed to that actually is an eye-opener for a lot of them. They get to see what other players – attheir own age – are doing at a faster level. It’s a great opportunity to be put in these environmentsthat test them.”
While players born anywhere between 1994 and 2000 areeligible for Academy play next season, United’s scouting efforts areparticularly concentrated on the Under-13 through Under-15 age groups. This generation will supply D.C.’s‘pre-academy’ teams which in turn feed the U-16 and U-18 academy squads.
“It becomes so much more difficult as a 17-year-old to comein and be re-taught how to do certain things,” Torres added of the club’surgency to incorporate the area’s top players into United’s developmentsystem at an earlier age. "When we have our players here at twelve and thirteen andthey are able to develop over the course of a couple of years, by the time theyget to sixteen they have no technical issues.”
For more information on D.C. United’s academy, please visitour Academy Page.