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Loudoun United 2020 season preview

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Loudoun’s first year was a roller coaster, will offseason stability be a positive?

Courtesy Loudoun United FC

D.C. United’s first year into the foray of second division of American soccer begat Loudoun United FC, a team that, like its parent club, played a couple of “home away from home” dates until their proper opener last summer. More significantly, they had a coaching change midway through the season following a change of Technical Director in April. So the new coach not only had the job of getting the players to buy into his program, but also set more long-lasting developmental connections between three different organizations, as is the inherent mission for any MLS2 franchise as Loudoun is. So after a frenetic and even optimistic last half of their first season, they get a full year to extend that optimism.

How did they finish in 2019?

11-17-6, 12th place in the 18 team Eastern Conference in the USL. Loudoun finished 4 points out of a playoff berth and among the six MLS2 teams in the East, their 39 points was second to the New York Red Bulls II’s 57. Not horrible given the amount of organizational turnover on and off field in Year One.

Who’s out?

Kyle Murphy (Tampa Bay Rowdies)

Connor Presley, Collin Verfurth and Orlando Sinclair (New England Revolution II)

Carlos Alvarez (San Diego Loyal)

Who’s in?

Jake Dengler (University of Connecticut)

Michael Gamble (Deportes Santa Cruz)

Massimo Ferrin (Syracuse University)

What’s new in 2020?

Where Loudoun’s first season kickoff had a roster largely comprised of USL journeymen, their second kickoff features two things, mostly locally grown and mostly young players. Loudoun currently has 21 players on the roster; of those 21, 14 played some sort of youth soccer in and around the D.C. and Baltimore areas. Of those 21, 15 are 22 years of age or younger.

What’s the one storyline you’ll be following?

I looked for a few things last year as the year went on and will probably approach it the same this year; first the macro; how quickly do the Loudoun players get on the same page on the field and in the locker room will be key to how well this revamped roster plays. On a micro level there are a couple of things; seeing how the Academy kids and newly minted homegrowns continue to progress on-field obviously, but how the new pros do. How does Gabriel Gomez do in a presumed shadow cast by his father (and D.C. icon) Christian? Who gets to create chances for the club in midfield following the organizational departures of Antonio Bustamante and Gordon Wild? So many questions!

What’s the new jersey?

USL teams get new threads home and away each year it seems, and Loudoun’s look good!

Courtesy Loudoun United FC
Courtesy Loudoun United FC

Who is THE player to watch on your team, and why?

Nyeman is the one getting a lot of praise from USL press for obvious reasons; in a handful of games in 2019 he made the list of Top 20 players under the age of 20 for the league, and in 2020 he’s one of the 10 midfielders to watch across the league. If he’s not playing for D.C., you should watch him at Loudoun.

If you’re watching Loudoun with any regularity this year, the tall lanky guy at forward is Alioune Ndour, who had been playing in the second division of Norway (and lighting it up) before coming to Loudoun late last year. He started the last four games of 2019 and scored five goals, all of which against teams headed to the playoffs. With teams knowing what to expect, if he can keep scoring over the course of a full year he should surprise people in and out of the organization.

Who’s the coach?

Ryan Martin took over in June and compiled 29 of the team’s 39 points, including winning the last four games of the regular season. The former D.C. United Academy Director saw two players (Nyeman, Kevin Paredes) signed to homegrown deals on his watch, signed a third (Ted Ku-DiPietro) to a pro deal with Loudoun, and four others (Adam Lundegard, Jacob Greene, Jeremy Garay and Sebastian Falsone) signed to USL Academy deals, where they can continue to get minutes without jeopardizing professional eligibility. The latter group of names should be more interesting to gauge from a development perspective, but from a coaching perspective, having him in the full season should be interesting to watch.

What’s the biggest concern this season?

Loudoun gave up four goals after the 75th minute from games they either led or tied, losing 2 points on the year (2 games of late Loudoun heroics offset this total). Whether it was Richie Williams or Martin, when the team was in a position to claim points from a match they ran into problems seeing the game out. Loudoun play their first 6 (and 9 of their first 11) on the road, with 5 coming against MLS2 teams, who they were surprisingly good against last year (5-2-1), so if there were chances to become lethal game finishers, those would seem to be it.

How summer tournaments impact the squad?

With D.C. first teamers like Junior Moreno, Edison Flores, Bill Hamid and others seeing Gold Cup and Copa America callups, this would mean presumed D.C. loanees Paredes, Nyeman, Earl Edwards Jr. and Griffin Yow stay in the city, so players like goalkeeper Colin Miller, former D.C. homegrown midfielder Brandon Williamson and others get some extended looks at tough competition.

Projected ideal XI

I’m sort of trying to balance the needs of D.C. United’s young players getting some minutes for loaned players with Loudoun fielding an optimal XI, to say nothing of D.C.’s dalliance with a 433. Nevertheless, I’m going to give this a shot with the asterisk that this may be obsolete by the time you finish this sentence:

Expectations for 2020?

Martin struck a balance both with the D.C. Academy players he brought into the squad and the older veterans that seemed to win them over and when they clicked, they clicked well. He gets the chance to make even more of an imprint on the club now using even more players he is familiar with, and saw what needed to be improved on from 2019 (65 goals allowed was a Top 10 allowed number and cast a shadow over 59 goals scored), and if he tightens the ship down in back, there’s no reason to think a playoff berth isn’t in the cards.