It is the day before Loudoun United’s last game of their inaugural 2019 season. They play the New York Red Bulls II on Saturday, but more than that this is the last practice the team as composed will have. USL Championship players live a somewhat nomadic life, with team changes being an annual occurrence for many, and some of the players will be leaving on Sunday, so coach Ryan Martin is not only holding exit interviews with those players but trying to keep the team’s focus on winning out in their last 4 games.
Murphy came into the club in June for Richie Williams, and the turnover in personnel was dizzying; Williams’ last game saw him dress 16 players, and 5 of whom were no longer with the club by the end of the season, but also he changed the club to play more proactively over the last four months. And while he prepped for an organizational foe, he still had time to reflect on his time as coach.
“I think the ability for the guys to change into a attacking team was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, and I was very pleased and proud of their efforts,” Martin said. “They competed and fought in almost every single game that they were in, which was tremendous. The group dealt with a lot of different things, whether it’s being at Audi Field or being on the road for the first half of the season and opening the stadium here, and different hiccups in an expansion team, all of those were really big positives for us.”
Along with being an expansion team, Loudoun is an MLS2 team. So while they have their own expenses and expenditures, some of their fortune can depend on help from the first team. So, for example, if a “2” team has a game Saturday, and the first team has a game Saturday, generally the coach of a “2” will find out Thursday what players he will need to accommodate into his planning. It is an unfortunate but necessary dynamic, one that numerous Loudoun players are accustomed to.
Peabo Doue is, but is not. Loudoun is his first “2” after spending time with North Carolina and Phoenix (among others), but this is a homecoming of sorts for the 28-year-old who grew up in Takoma Park and played in the D.C. United Academy. After saying that 2019 was “...a hell of a ride” for himself and the team, Doue expanded on things:
“I reached out to some of the guys I know that play with MLS 2 teams and I kind of got a feeling for what it was going to be like and the environment. It’s been a challenging experience, just because I’ve never had this role before, that kind of leadership, but it’s a challenge that I’ve welcomed and I experienced and I appreciated that [it] forced me to learn quickly and communicate better with the guys and everybody who works with us, so that has been a great experience for me.”
Team captain Kyle Murphy has played for a “2” in Rio Grande (the Houston Dynamo USL side), but also is familiar with the “independent” nature of a USL club with San Antonio FC, and has experienced both sides of the dynamic.
“With any startup team there’s going to be a learning curve. But looking back, if we win this game and get super close to having made the playoffs, which I think is a huge positive. And I think everybody had a good year, and I think everyone’s goal is just to step to the next level. Obviously there is a larger player pool with an MLS2 team, so a lot of competition for spots and different things that go into it, but the benefit of being on the “2” team has the potential to move up, so that’s always a good thing.”
Antonio Bustamante’s name has usually been on the Thursday list for Friday practices with Loudoun, appearing in 26 of 34 games for them. The D.C. homegrown said, “I was happy with my performance, and for the group, we had our ups and downs, we had changes in coach and changes in staff, so we’ve gone through a lot this season, but I think we didn’t do half bad at all, we made some noise and built some chemistry and we can build off that. [For me], it was a different experience, I thought it’d be, and I’m kind of glad I went through it so I know what to expect next.”
Martin also recognizes that some of what occurs on the field today will be things that he will see tomorrow, or next year, as several players are rumored to already be signed for 2020.
“When we started adding pieces in June, we wanted to bring in guys that we saw, maybe had a longer term future. And I think you look at signing Moses (Nyeman) as a homegrown and a lot of pieces were built for long term, so we feel really good about a lot of the pieces of the group, and we’re excited about where we’re heading because if you look at a year ago, we had zero players signed so for us it’s significantly further along and it’s like we’ve already got a pretty good jump on where we want to go next year.”
Loudoun won their last game against Red Bulls II 7-3, which put them in 12th place, 4 points from a playoff berth. The players and staff celebrated at Segra hours after the game before heading their separate ways. Kyle Murphy had two goals, an assist as was named to the USL Championship Team of the Week, giving him 13 goals (which led the team) and four assists on the year. Bustamante scored a goal (his fifth), and his four assists tied with Murphy for the team lead.
Martin and his staff are resuming player evaluations and will be holding player tryouts a week from Saturday, less than eight months after player tryouts for 2019 were held.