For Loudoun United midfielder Theodore (Ted) Ku-DiPietro, the winter had some milestones with it; after making his professional debut from D.C. United’s Academy last year, he signed his first professional contract on January 7, three weeks before his 18th birthday. After appearing in Loudoun’s opener and the shuttering of sports during the Covid-19 pandemic, he recently found a way to help relieve the stress that not many others his age and place in life would have considered.
“I started meditating, (a few) weeks into it,” Ku-DiPietro said. “And I started reading more; usually I don’t like reading, but I’ve focused a lot on mentality during the break. And Robby Dambrot would text me and said, ‘I want you to read this book,’ and he’d send it over. (So) reading books, watching a lot of videos on mentality and watching a ton of film on how players react to certain games. But the meditation has helped me a lot though, just in the sense of being able to calm everything in my body. I started off with 5 minutes, went to 10 and doing 15 now, but the reason I got into it is because I saw a video on Kobe Bryant, and how he talked about it being an anchor for him every day, like he had to do it, otherwise he was chasing the day. I thought that was really interesting and I got very intrigued by it, and I really enjoy it.”
Ku-DiPietro’s emergence for D.C fans months before he professional debut, when he scored a highlight reel goal in the 2019 GA Cup:
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 16, 2019
What a run & finish from @dcunited's Theodore Ku-DiPietro! // #GACup by @adidassoccer pic.twitter.com/eFZHj5yKdc
“It’s pretty hilarious, especially when the commentator said, ‘stop it Ku-DiPietro,’ my friends always taste me because of that but I think it’s actually pretty funny. I really enjoyed it, (but) it kind of freaked me out when I saw it on the MLS page, and I saw it was really cool to get that recognition. Personally I thought I could have had a better game, and enjoying that with my friends, the GA Cup is such a great experience, playing all those teams and going to the next level. From Arlington last year, all the way up and to Loudoun here. Last year was a pretty great transition year, it helped a lot.”
While players like Griffin Yow, Moses Nyeman and Kevin Paredes all played with Ku-DiPietro under coach Ryan Martin in the Academy, Ku-DiPietro has seen Martin’s transition from coaching boys to men more than the others and while the times change, Martin’s method is still impactful, even as Ku-DiPietro has had to make adjustments of his own.
“What I thought was funny was that Ryan acts today the exact same with the players, any DA or any Academy, or professional players. The very first time I went (with Loudoun) was on a trip up to Maryland to the Naval Academy and we played the United States U-20 national team there, and there was just a little scrimmage. But when I walked in, I saw Ryan had the exact same thing on the board that he always writes, and I thought it sounded pretty hilarious. For me the difference has to do with the mentality of the players and how serious they take it. Now it’s not just something you do after school, it’s your life, it’s what you wake up to do in the morning and I realized that pretty quickly. It took a while for me to transition into that but once I did, I started seeing how people dealt with or reacted to certain things, like if you had a bad day in training, what did you do the next day or what did you do after training to bounce back from that. It was a good transition point for me, because in my career, I’ve always wanted to play professional soccer, but really just see that people’s minds and their mentality was really good for me to learn from them.”
Ku-DiPietro had several options in hand over the winter before signing; the opportunity existing to play with D.C.’s U-19 team, or he could have signed an Academy contract with Loudoun, not only allowing him to play but also retaining any college eligibility if he preferred. Signing an outright professional deal with Loudoun allowed him the chance to dive in with both feet.
“I have always wanted to play professionally. And I think the earlier I can do it, the more experience I can gain, the better I can be. I knew I was gonna play for Loudoun this year, there was only an Academy contract or a (pro) contract. I’m more of a hands on learner, I can learn things through experience whether it’s on the field or off the field. (So) for me, the pro option was just the right choice because of how passionate I was for the sport, how eager I was to get out there and play, and treat it as a job.”
Ku-DiPietro’s connections to his Academy alumni remain solid, and they talk frequently. “(Actually) we don’t really talk about the first team, and Loudoun, it’s a whole big thing whenever we talk about it. Kevin and I were just talking about this, whenever Kevin does a one on one with Bill (Hamid), Bill talks to him, trying to get in his head like ‘are you going this way, you’re going this way.’ When I was in preseason with DC, we talked about how the difference between the speed of play and players and how people interact with each other. And how is the professional setting is, it’s really great. Whenever we do talk about it, it’s not a black and white thing, it’s a whole Loudoun and DC family together.”
Even at 18, Ku-DiPietro has asserted himself as a presence in the locker room next to the veterans, not being shy about taking on the role. “It was subconscious, Ryan is always trying to push people to be leaders, whether it’s 24 people on the team or the 11 on the field, he’s always pushing people to be better; better guys, better players, every single day. Whether he sends a quote in the group chat or sends us a inspirational video. For me, just to take that next step to be a leader, it really just comes from growing into a team. For me, I’ve always wanted to be a leader; I don’t have to be the captain, but I want to be a leader within the team, (and) I want to lift my teammates up. I want to have everybody playing on the same level (and) I want everybody to enjoy playing together. I still need to grow in that aspect of being a leader, but for me I think that that step was needed in order for me to take my game to the next step. And for me to mature as a person and a player.”
“I think his mindset right now he’s always hopeful in playing for Loudoun and hopeful to be a pro, but now I think his tangible goal of his is to be a guy that breaks into the first team down the road,” Martin said. “He’s young enough, he’s got time, but I don’t think he’s resting on his laurels, he is going after it, he’s competing and his mentality is always been very good, but right now I think that it’s a realistic target that he could eventually make the jump and be a significant consistent performer, and that’s something that we will always discuss with him. He’s coming along well, he’s got a little bit of injury right now but he’ll be ready for the first game.”
Ku-DiPietro says the same thing about the compacted season that others have said. “I think we’re all striving for playoffs and to win the whole thing. It’s a lot more together than last year, Ryan came in halfway through the season, didn’t get to get his philosophies down and the players didn’t know how he wanted to play, and that’s why we watched video. (So) I think this year, (we) expect to win a lot of games and see a lot of goals.”