The chance to play a pro soccer game in his backyard had been Calle Brown’s focus for a couple of weeks. The former All-Region and All-Met goalkeeper had been playing professionally for several years, recently with the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders organizations before coming home to play for Loudoun United in February, and had the honors to start as Segra Field opened in his hometown of Leesburg.
Asked about the feeling after the game, he didn’t mince words. “Something like this, I don’t know if I ever imagined it would be happening. I grew up within literally five minutes from here. And to have a 5,000 seat stadium and a packed house on a night like tonight is amazing, it’s incredible. I had so many friends and family out in the stands, it’s just probably one of my favorite soccer moments in my whole career.”
When it comes to locals suiting up for Loudoun, Brown is far from alone. When one goes to a game, they will usually see red Loudoun jerseys bearing the number 24 on the back. Collin Verfurth wears that number, and Verfurth’s friends and family are regulars at his games, whether at Audi Field earlier this season or at Segra now.
Verfurth is known by many in Loudoun for good reason; he went to high school at Briar Woods in nearby Ashburn, but his youth soccer experience was with Loudoun Soccer, United’s neighbor, and Loudoun Soccer Park is close enough to Segra Field that you can see ‘Loudoun United’ printed in red in Segra’s east seats from LSP’s fields.
“Growing up for me, I’ve always wanted to play professional soccer,” Verfurth said. “When I was young, I would put on the [Loudoun Soccer] jersey, and now these kids can come here and watch our games, and see that the reality is just right down the road, that if you work hard, you can get there.”
Such is the reality of Loudoun’s existence, not just as a professional sports franchise in Loudoun, but as another portion of the development path for those who wish to elevate even further and play for D.C. United. Coach Ryan Martin has been heavily involved throughout the pipeline, with current and former academy players Griffin Yow, Bryang Kayo, Jeremy Garay and Jacob Greene getting minutes under United’s former academy director in his first three months since taking over as the USL Championship club’s head coach. Martin has noticed the changes in their play.
“[I’m] pleasantly surprised that they are more than ready and have tremendous composure and ability in situations where they play against older players,” said Martin. “I also think their consistency and ability to really make a difference in matches has been expedited in these opportunities and they are held more accountable by their older teammates in training with a faster and higher level and in matches where they really get punished for mistakes. We have some really good young academy players coming through and excited to see them with more and more minutes.”
Such is the case for Moses Nyeman, a coveted prospect in D.C.’s academy system. Nyeman occasionally is called into youth national team camps for the United States youth team, but has appeared in 10 professional games since making his pro debut in June. The jump in Nyeman’s playing stage from last year to this has been noticeable for the 15 year old.
“As an academy player, I think last year was just playing with the academy, making sure we got to the GA Cup and playoffs to play against some good competition,” Nyeman said. “But now with Loudoun, you can do that every week, especially for me playing with these guys, it’s just a bonus to play professional at such a young age.”
Nyeman is another player that Martin is familiar with and while he’s noticed the acceleration of his development, he also notes that the only change with Nyeman and the aforementioned youngsters is the theater they perform in.
“To be honest, it’s the same. It’s a people industry and based on trust and relationships. They know that I only want the best for them and for their continued growth and they have also helped training and the culture as they know my expectations and the game model of the club,” explained Martin. “I want Loudoun to serve as a platform for them to get major minutes with our first team and hopefully full national team down the line. I want it to help their consistency and professionalism as they grow in their career and hope it continues our relationship for years to come no matter where this game takes us.”
Verfurth has also noticed the benefits of the potential to progress up to MLS with D.C. as someone who did not have the opportunity to take advantage of it: “Being able to have an affiliation of a team like D.C. and to practice with players you idolized growing up, and in the friendly games, to be able to get professional time getting in front of Audi Field and it’s just such a great experience.”
“I’m gonna appreciate everything I’ve learned from here and everything they’ve given me so far,” Nyeman said about his time in Loudoun.
“To be honest this is ideally what we wanted this to be,” Martin said when talking about Loudoun. “We have had over 14 former academy players get chances and opportunities for our top young guys to really test themselves. It has also been great for our signed Homegrowns and young first team players to get minutes in a tough competitive league. I also think the best part is the amount of training opportunities and the tangible opportunity for our academy players and local young players in the area to play at a professional level. It shows a real pathway.”