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United Academy coach Kacy Charlton teaches the importance of having fun while challenging the U-15 team

United U-15 Academy Coach Kacy Charlton is no stranger to long journeys. Born in Florida, Charlton was raised in the Bahamas before his family moved to North Carolina by the time he was 11.

“I was there through high school,” Charlton said. “then I went to college in Oklahoma, and after I was done there I moved back to the Bahamas where I helped start a youth soccer club.”

By the time he was 23, Charlton had returned to North Carolina, where he joined the Triad Elite Soccer club. There he met current U-18 coach Nate Kish and current Academy Director Ryan Martin and built a connection that eventually led him to the D.C. United Academy a few years later.

It’s the kind of journey that has been fueled entirely by passion. Charlton grew up playing multiple sports, and even made the National Team for the Bahamas in rugby, but he always returned to soccer.

“I played for the full national team for the Bahamas just following in my dad’s footsteps there, but soccer was my first love and coaching was something I wanted to do for a really long time,” Charlton said. “I wanted to give back because so many people gave back to me and I want to do the same for kids.”

So when Martin offered him a position at United, the answer was obvious.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” Charlton said. “Being part of a professional club.”

With the academy, Charlton led to U-15 team to their first appearance at the Generation adidas Cup (GA Cup) earlier this month where they finished second in their group. The Generation adidas Cup is one of the premier youth soccer tournaments in the region that pits the best of MLS’ academy teams against one another.

The tournament, which splits teams into three groups, revolves around qualifying matches in each group that take place over 2018 Columbus Day weekend and 2019 President's Day weekend. The top two teams from each group, plus two wildcards, will advance to play in the Champions Division in the 2019 Generation adidas Cup Finals at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

This year’s edition of the Generation adidas Cup is also the first time that the U-15 age group will be represented in the finals.

Players in that age group are in a critical time in their development where they are just beginning to unlock their true potential. Tournaments like the GA Cup play a huge role in challenging players against top competition which, if they reach the finals, can pit them against academy teams from international clubs like Spain’s Real Madrid, Argentina’s River Plate and Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt.

As their coach, Charlton knows that his players will be at critical junctures in their young careers. As such, he noted that he tries to strike a balance between challenging them and encouraging them to have as much fun as possible.

“The biggest thing is to just challenge them every day and make sure the environment is healthy and fun for learning the game,” Charlton said. “It also has to be competitive every day, because in the real world you have to compete day in and day out to fight for what you want. That’s what we try to do in training every single day.”

The concept of having fun, as simple as it may be, is one that is extremely important to Charlton, and he tries to instill that in each and every one of his players. For him, even while the stages get bigger, players can’t lose sight of why they are playing the game in the first place.

“The biggest thing I tell them is just have fun and showcase your talent,” Charlton said. “Don’t hold back, get after it and take advantage of the opportunity.”