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Loudoun notebook: Recapping 2021

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There were some bright spots despite a 2nd straight wooden spoon.

Courtesy Loudoun United

So with the chance of reclaiming some of my time again, I figured I would try to start a periodic thing about Loudoun where I shared thoughts, random numbers, maybe dispel a myth or two, whatever comes across my mind. Feel free to share your thoughts on what I look at, how I look at it, and the like, starting with:

This is how life as an MLS2 side is currently, like it or not.

There was this mild gnashing of teeth about Loudoun as they fell to the Red Bulls at the end of October to close out their season that I didn’t get. And sure, over the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Loudoun United’s combined record is 5-34-6. Not great, I know!

But, and I can’t stress this enough, this is the current environment for MLS2 sides, in the USL, in COVID. Did people think would be different? Over the last two seasons, want to know how many MLS2 sides grabbed a playoff spot? 1, the LA Galaxy II, who got an 8 seed in 2020. The best MLS2 in 2021 (Tacoma) finished 20th overall out of 31 USL Championship teams.

Heck, let’s look at the records of other MLS2 sides in the USLC over that time:

Tacoma Defiance (Seattle Sounders affiliate) 14-23-11

Colorado Springs Switchbacks (Colorado Rapids affiliate): 15-15-18

LA: 19-21-8

Real Monarchs (Real Salt Lake affiliate): 8-31-9

Sporting Kansas City II: 9-30-9

New York Red Bulls II: 12-29-7

Atlanta United 2: 11-24-13

This excludes the Philadelphia Union II, who opted not to compete in 2021 after logging a 2-11-3 record in 2020, but if you add in their 2019 campaign, their record is 10-30-10. Ditto the Portland Timbers II side, whose combined 2019 and 2020 were 13-29-8 after a 3-win 2020 season. In addition, the Eastern Conference MLS2s have been playing the Charlotte Independence, Charleston Battery, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, and Tampa Bay Rowdies a ton of times. All of whom are USL independent sides, most are with longtime veteran coaches. Many of them are experiencing losses to those clubs, though admittedly perhaps not on the scale of Loudoun’s occasional blowout losses have been, but still.

Does all this wear on those regular to Loudoun United? Sure, it’s impossible not to based on conversations I’ve had at Segra. Looking forward, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that whatever it is that MLS has in store for their affiliate sides will start with some bumps in the road, so eventually Loudoun’s record will improve against those sides, which I guess will be good. The bad news? The education for Loudoun (and these others) isn’t going to be as robust when they get to the first team. For a team that had almost half of their available minutes played by someone under 20 years old (with no hint at stopping that soon), getting blown out for the sake of development is likely an acceptable tradeoff at the moment.

Did Loudoun stink in 2021?

At times, they were not pretty! And when you give up the most goals in the League (78), that certainly emphasizes it. That said, more often than not they were the victim of poor finishes and saveable shots. Some of the more egregious examples:

Loudoun 2021 xG

Home xGF Away xGA xGD Result
Home xGF Away xGA xGD Result
LDN 1.82 TBR 1.36 0.46 0-2
LDN 2.34 COS 2.24 0.1 1-3
LDN 2.85 HFD 2.2 0.65 0-2
CHS 1.34 LDN 1.85 -0.51 3-0
LDN 1.07 CHS 0.68 0.39 0-1
MIA 0.73 LDN 3.29 2.56 1-1

Their actual Goal Differential versus their xGD of -30.11 meant that 30 goals should have turned the other way, based on their xG value, or roughly triple their -10.16 season of 2020, and it the highest total that American Soccer Analysis has recorded for USL sides since doing so back in 2017, and this was a team who logged the 8th best xG in the League this year!

Put simply, Loudoun United’s offense couldn’t buy water if they fell out of a boat.

Did D.C. United’s loanees do well at least?

Yes and no;

  • Jovanny Bolivar was second in goals (6) for Loudoun despite missing a couple of months due to being available for the parent club, despite not playing any minutes for the same. He played as a 9 and a 10 (at occasional times) for Ryan Martin and increased in confidence as the season went on.
  • Jeremy Garay technically doesn’t count as a D.C. loanee despite signing a deal in July, but at Loudoun continued to evolve in terms of distribution (leading in passes, passes per 90 and was second in passing accuracy, and improved his defensive actions from 2020). If Felipe does not return to D.C. in 2022, Garay will be a big reason why.
  • Like Garay, Jacob Greene hung out with the United States U-20 during the ‘Revelations Cup’, and started with the club also. At Loudoun, he served in the Julian Gressel role if there was an equivalent, scoring his first pro goal and working on his two-way play.
  • Kimarni Smith was the first of two D.C. United draft picks in 2021 and logged his first pro goal also. He did seem to encounter more success playing on the outside (his off-the-ball movement improved as the season went on) than as a forward up top. As the international player surplus thins out, it will be interesting to see what place Smith has with the parent club this winter.
  • Michael DeShields logged the fewest minutes (684) of any of the loanees, dealing partly with injury over the year after missing a large portion of 2020. Part of his time was spent on conditioning, rhythm, and confidence, and if he returns healthy in 2022, I’d imagine he spends most of his time with Loudoun to continue to improve.

What do D.C.’s Academy kids look like? Any promise there?

I think so; the first one may be Jackson Hopkins (2004), who plays all sides of midfield but mostly/preferably centrally. He scored twice (both against RB2) and could have bagged a couple more, and gave the attack some danger on counters to free guys going forward. Abdellatif Aboukoura (04) plays in midfield and was one of three players with 2 assists on the year (second on the team) despite logging less than 200 minutes, Jace Clark (2005) started at defense on the right and looked fairly in place next to captain Timmy Mehl, almost twice his age, and scored a goal as well over 9 games (5 starts). A slew of kids saw their first pro starts and/or minutes in the final games of the season for Martin also, including goalkeeper Jonathan Mennell (2003), forwards Xavier O’Neil (2004), and Isaiah Chisholm (2005), so it will be interesting to see who returns for more pro time. Loudoun dropping these various tidbits is encouraging at least:

Are there any Loudoun guys to watch?

Well, USL contracts go year to year and some of the guys are on loans which will have to be revisited (roster decisions were TBD per a club spokesperson this week), but if I had to make any predictions:

  • Gaoussou Samake spent a portion of the year injured, but was one of two players to log more than a chance a game and had a goal and assist over 14 games. He hung out with the first team a little so if he returns he may get a look.
  • Based on social media it sounds like he’s leaving, but like his club teammate from Venezuela (Bolivar), Darluis Paz got more confident as the season went on, scoring a goal and two assists over 27 games, and finishing third on the team in created chances (22), logged the same xG/90 (.41) as Bolivar and had the 2nd most key passes per 90 on the team to boot.

Why haven’t you mentioned Ted Ku-DiPietro? Did he go somewhere?

He’s still there! In fact, this was easily his best year as a pro; he led the team in goals (7), assists (3), and created chances (45), the latter by almost double the second place Garay (25). Along with that, he was 4th in the USL in goals added (g+) with 3.30. Put simply, g+ helps evaluate a player’s impact both on Loudoun’s attack and the opposition defense (more methodology on it can be found via ASA). Ku-DiPietro’s number was just behind Jose Gallegos of San Antonio (who trained with Bayern Munich before the season), along with Leo Fernandes and Sebastian Guenzatti, both of whom are almost a decade older than Ku-DiPietro, who is the youngest of the four, turning 20 in January.

Given that age, his work in 2021 and versatility (playing a number of positions in midfield over the season before eventually settling in on working with Hopkins the final games of 2021), if there is a line for the next player who earns a contract with D.C. United, I imagine Ku-DiPietro’s name is at the top of that list.