WASHINGTON — Starting on Friday, D.C. United’s two Development Academy teams embark on a road that they hope ends with a National Championship.
After winning the Mid-Atlantic Conference in the U.S. Soccer Federation Development Academy League at both the U-16 and U-18 age levels, D.C. is traveling to Texas to begin competing in the Development Academy Playoffs at Pizza Hut Park.
“We look forward to playing in this type of setting where it’s a Playoff to try and get to the National Championship,” U-18 Head Coach Judah Cooks told MLSsoccer.com. “Nothing really changes from what we’re teaching. We want our kids to play our D.C. United way and enjoy the moment.”
The Playoffs are the first part of the postseason competition set up by the USSF, with the first-place finisher of the eight-group competition advancing to Finals Week, held July 9-16 in Milwaukee.
Ensuring that both teams keep up the momentum is critical to success, according to Cooks.
“It’s about how we play as a group, and I think that the 27 games leading up to this point has put us in this situation to just be ourselves and play the way we’re supposed to play,” he said.
There is plenty of talent to go around on both squads. Attacking midfielder Collin Martin and Patrick Foss will lead the U-16's, while the U-18's are anchored by leading scorer Marcus Salandy-Defour and midfielder Mikias Etichia.
Four members of D.C.’s Academy have signed for the first team, and 'keeper Bill Hamid said he makes sure to keep up with how both Academy teams are doing.
“They’ve got some good talent that come up and play with the reserves when we have reserve games, so I’m kind of excited for what the future has for those guys,” Hamid said. “I know that right now they have a good squad and are definitely going to fight for a championship.”
Still, it won’t be an easy task for either side. The 18's are in a group with Empire United (Western New York), Pateadores (Irvine, Calif.) and the North Carolina Fusion.
Meanwhile, the 16's will face Seattle Sounders FC, Columbus Crew and Empire United.
The quest to become the first D.C. Academy side to win a National Title will serve as a motivation factor throughout the extended weekend.
“This is their chance to finally win a win a national championship. We never won a national championship, 18's or 16's,” Cooks said. “I think these kids are looking at that as a reason to be excited.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.