D.C. United Academy begins promising new season after summer of restructuring
By Marc Serber
Featured Contributor, SoccerWire.com
D.C. United spent the summer restructuring it’s Academy and coaching staff.
While words such as “restructuring” often signal alarm bells of chaos, the staff sees it as the final piece of the puzzle.
“It’s the most defined our pro pathway has ever been in the history of the club,” new Academy Director David Sanford told Soccer Wire in an exclusive interview. “My roll is to see Loudoun’s [United] needs week to week and see what players can come in.”
The addition of Loudoun United [D.C.’s second squad which plays in the USL Championship] was the catalyst for a reshuffling of the pack among the Academy’s coaching staff. Especially after former Academy Director Ryan Martin was promoted to coach Loudoun.
“Ryan [Martin] knows the [academy] players well,” Sanford said. “So we are keeping him up to speed with what’s going on in our training environment.”
With Loudoun United the bridge between the academy and first team, getting players exposed to the pro environment is the number one objective. In just its first season in the USL Championship, 19 different academy players have featured on Loudoun United’s match day roster while countless others have participated in training sessions.
“With Loudoun completing our pathway to the firs team, continuing to push players into Loudoun training sessions and getting them match minutes is one of our main goals,” said new Technical Director Gus Teren during the same interview.
Like Sanford, Teren steps into a new roll, but has been with D.C.’s Academy for quite some time: “At the academy level, with a new coaching line-up, we are just trying to improve and elevate the work that has been done in our academy in order to develop pros at a consistent level.”
The change Teren refers to is a restructuring of United’s teams and a few coaches moving to lead different age groups.
“We had a pretty big project we’ve undertaken over the past couple of years with seven teams from U12 through U19,” Sanford said. “It was quite a bit of work and as we turn the page and move forward, we removed a couple of age categories to simply the work and allocate the resources a bit more effectively in order to have more player to coach time.”
This season United will feature teams in the U-14, U-15 and the mixed U16/17 and U18/19 age groups that will compete in the Development Academy.
Javier Cano Gallego already has the U19’s at 1-0 after victory against the Impact in Montreal this weekend. The Spaniard is in his second season with D.C. United after six years in Villarreal’s Academy followed by a stint in the Czech Republic as the head coach of Slavia Prague’s U-21 side.
Former American University and USL standout Nate Baker returns to the nation’s capital as the lone “new hire,” coaching D.C.’s U17’s. Baker comes from the collegiate level where he served as an assistant at both Navy and the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Nate Kish has moved from the U19’s to the U15s. According to Sanford, “Kish has proven himself to be a top educator of players.”
Furthermore, at the U15 level, there is a big focus on the Generation Adidas [GA] Cup, in addition to some international trips this group will take. Kish has been tasked with working with this particular group as they learn to carry themselves as professionals and representatives of the Black-and-Red on the road.
In addition to his new roll as Technical Director, Teren will also coach the U14s.
For Kish, the entire restructuring comes down to making sure D.C. is creating a “players first” environment every step of the way. “We want to put the players first in every which way we can,” Kish told Soccer Wire. We want to increase the number of players going into the first team environment and getting call ups with the various levels of the U.S. National team. We want to continue to push the limits and have this environment that’s unique and special so that the kids feel this opportunity is there for the taking.”
With the season just kicking off, the work done to move the coaching pieces into place to create the proper pipeline must now be put into action on the training grounds, in DA matches, and in prestigious tournaments such as the GA Cup.
“We have a sense of urgency to make sure we have everyone in line and establish a culture of how we want them to play in different moments of the game,” Teren said of the academy players that will dawn the famous Eagle-crested shirt this season. “The way the federation [the US Soccer Development Academy] has re-worked the fixtures, it’s MLS-heavy. So we are excited to see how our players do against other MLS academies. We are also looking forward to seeing who else we can push into the USL environment in the next 10-12 months.”