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DCU U23 Wrap-up: Saying Goodbye

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In which the Black and Red youths wrap up and move on.

Coming into Sunday's game with New York-based FA Euro, the D.C. United U23 knew two things: first, their chase for a playoff berth in the USL PDL Mid-Atlantic Division was over, as they did not have enough time nor points to make up. Second, Sunday's game with FA Euro was the last game that the team had for the season. Some of the players had begun preparations for school, others were spending a weekend with family, but this was it for the year. So while there was some melancholy, there was time for reflection at Evergreen Sportsplex.

Sunday's kickoff temperature of 96 degrees combined with the temperature on the turf of more than 105 resulted in the game undergoing two water breaks, similar to the ones the parent club had 16 hours before in Texas with FC Dallas. The visitors had played the previous game and dressed 13 for the game, as several players returned home for family/school purposes. The Black and Red started strong, as Pablo Aguilar (University of Virginia) came in on a sprung pass and while his first shot was saved, he put the rebound home in the 30th minute for a 1-0 D.C. lead. In the second half, Dario Redondo (Radford University) came in on an attack from his left back position and brought the ball back to his right, beating the keeper to his left for a 2-0 lead in the 63rd minute. The heat and short Euro bench kept the score at that point until the final whistle, and the 8-2-4 record put them in fifth place in the 14 game calendar.

After the game, the players, coaches, staff and player families were treated to a meal by the Evergreen staff, one last occasion for those to be social and say hi, get numbers and emails before heading back to school. I asked the players and staff about their thoughts on the experience.

Jeremy Ebobisse (Duke University): "Personally, this season was very important to me after coming off a challenging freshman year at Duke. I was not quite sure what to expect from the program, being that it was my first time with DC United, but I have been impressed with the overall experience. The degree of professionalism from players, coaches and administrative staff created a competitive environment for players to thrive in. The competitive nature of our program would manifest itself in games with the quality performances players put in in order to maintain their time on the field, as well as expose themselves to people watching the game (scouts, agents, first team staff, etc). I am not quite sure I am ready to leave such a professional environment quite yet!"

Taylor Washington (George Mason): "It was a fantastic experience. Steffen (Kraus) told me so much about the great coaching, system and players at D.C. United, and to experience that firsthand was a true blessing. The coaching staff is so professional, and we trained to the utmost."

Steffen Kraus (George Mason): "It was a great preparation for the college season. To get with the first team a little bit, we want it even more, to see how life is with the first team and to experience all of that it makes all of us even hungrier to take it to the next level."

Jacori Hayes (Wake Forest): "It was unlucky we didn't make the playoffs, but we moved past it, had a great year, nearly undefeated. It's a great honor, we fought for the D.C. United badge and I'll try to take this winning spirit back to Wake Forest and take that mentality there."

Redondo: "The players that come every summer get better and has gotten really really good since i've been here. D.C. United is headed in the right direction with these programs."

Richie Burke (team coach): "I think if the kids are really honest with themselves, the best gauge for accountability is the mirror. Look and see exactly what you've done and how you've improved. Look to work on your deficiencies. Every footballer has a deficiency. We set out to play very much like the first team, and I thought they adjusted very well. Some of them clearly play in different systems and programs, so when they came here to us, we cleared that one out, said 'this is how we're going to play,' some players gravitated towards that really well, others spent time trying to find their way, but I think it's a great group of kids. Overall, it's been a fantastic experience for our staff, we've become very connected. We weren't about going into the playoffs and about winning everything, that wasn't the mandate from the beginning. It's a developmental program, and our job was to make it a great experience and connect to the football club, have some integration with the first team, and I think we achieved that and I think they feel that too."

Tom Torres (Assistant coach, Head of Academy Scouting Program): "From an upward integration perspective, with players training with our first team, players getting extra matches with our Academy players, having our Academy players train with the Under 23s, it was a complete success. The players that we had from Day One were completely committed, sacrificed a lot of hot mornings, and came to a lot of training sessions. Richie was an excellent head coach and it was a lot of fun.

We hope to continue to grow this U-23 program, this is the fifth year we've had a program, and we've done something different three different times. Different leagues, different training programs, and we really appreciated what Evergreen was able to do for us and they have a class facility. Everything they did here for us was truly magnificent and a complete success and we hope to have a strong showing next year and retain a lot of the players and we got a chance to look at a lot of the players in a different way, and it was a lot of fun."

After giving the Evergreen staff a signed ball and shirt, the comment was made that if any of them wished to come back next year, they were more than welcomed. Two players said jokingly that they hoped they didn't see each other back at Evergreen in 2016, but in a tone that each fully expects the other to make the next step in their development, whatever that step may be.

I hope they do that, and more.

Special thanks to the players of the team and to coaches Richie Burke and Tom Torres, along with team coordinator Chase Rusden. Additional thanks to the Evergreen staff, particularly Managing Director Chris Bourassa and Facilities Manager Nick Russett.