With a pair of resounding wins against New Jersey Soccer Academy – a program run by U.S. soccer legend Tab Ramos - D.C. United’s youth academy began its sixth year of USSDA play this past weekend. The positive results were hopefully a harbinger of things to come, and also an early sign of progress towards one of the academy’s primary goals for 2012-2013.
Last year, D.C.’s Under-16 side qualified for the USSDA national championships, but the Under-18 team did not. This time around, all age groups will look to play attractive soccer that delivers practical results.
“We are emphasizing each individual player being a winner way more than what we did last year,” said academy coach Nolan Sheldon on Wednesday. “A winner doesn’t necessarily mean the final score, but in the sense of are our guys performing their role better than their direct opponent. We have the philosophy that if nine or ten guys do that every game, then as a team, we will be winners.”
To be clear, the club’s academy is strongly maintaining its commitment to player development over results-oriented soccer. During July’s national championships, the U-16’s went a non-descript 1-2-1 – but drew rave reviews from those in attendance.
“The U-16’s really showed quality soccer though we didn’t win the title,” said U-16 coach Tom Torres. “Coaches from U.S. Soccer and some of the top 10 or 15 college programs nationally complimented our kids after we played with regards to the style and mentality they showed.”
As the youth soccer scene continues to evolve, so has D.C.’s youth development. The club added an Under-13 program this season, allowing players to get an even earlier start on their preparations for a professional future in the sport.
The academy now counts nearly 160 players on its rosters – up from 120 a year ago.
“Any club that potentially wants to sign future players to its first team, the younger you get them the better off you are going to be,” said Torres. “It’s huge for us as a club, to really start bringing in players as early as possible and truly developing them as opposed to identifying them and putting them on teams.”
“Introducing another age group goes a long way in terms of having players training in our style longer,” Nolan added. “We are excited to see where our 13’s and 14’s are going to be in two or three years. There is a lot of talent that can only improve greatly by being in the system for a longer period of time.”