Loudoun United coach Ryan Martin has had a busy few weeks. Along with the building and integration of the roster for his team, he has also been helping D.C. United coach Hernán Losada and assistant Nicolas (Nico) Frutos handle acclimation to and prepare for their first MLS season, and saw things a little easier than most.
“It’s funny how things work because you know I I think tactically there’s a lot of similarities between his team (Beerschot) and what we’ve tried to do here, even statistically, we concede a number of goals and we score a lot of goals, he was kind of the same way at Beerschot. I think our principles are very similar.”
Like most of us, Martin is eager to put 2020 behind him, as his Loudoun side was one that found itself at the bottom of most charts for team scoring, shots, chances. Throw in Covid-19 finding its way to his team, which resulted in the early ending of the season. Where 2019 found him calling on D.C. homegrowns like Moses Nyeman, Griffin Yow, and Kevin Paredes, 2020 allowed Martin their services for just one pre-Covid game before protocols deprived him of their talents, putting him in a lurch, culminating in the early end of their season due to the virus. With the 2021 Loudoun squad, he’s not planning for that again.
“When we built the (2020) roster, we were expecting help from the first team, but when we went into this offseason we put together a worst-case scenario where nobody comes down and that can compete. Then Hernán and his staff are known for helping young guys develop at the highest level in the first division, so our expectation is Hernán will want to evaluate and see these guys as much as possible. The next thing we really had to take a look at was that Adam Lundegard, Diego Ochoa, and Jeremy Garay, who have done well for us and they’re on the path to go to college in June, so you’re really looking at half a year or even less (with them). So we feel like we have a really good mix of young players with extremely high ceilings that we’re excited to work with over the course of the year and see if they can make it to the first team. Then we have a group of guys that may be a little bit older, but (they’re) still kinda hungry for success. But if we’ve found guys that want to compete, want to win, (want to) create a culture that really helps bring the young guys along, even if they’re not playing and just training and the future Academy kids where we make it a strong environment, (then) we feel like we have a really good mentality within the group.”
A signing that could serve to make a huge impact is Drew Skundrich. The 25-year-old has a connection to Segra Field already, as he is married Washington Spirit (and United States) midfielder Andi Sullivan, but Skundrich is a talented player in his own right and should be a staple in midfield.
“We were just really excited about Drew, we tried to pull it off last year (but) couldn’t make it work you know for different reasons, and this year with his wife out in (Leesburg) it made for a slam dunk for everybody. He’s been a winner everywhere he’s gone, captains every team, truly a box-to-box type of guy and covers so much ground. Not to say Jeremy (Garay) hasn’t done it, just (Drew) is older and done it at different levels. He’ll be a such a key piece to everything we’re doing, so having him as one of our first signings was a massive statement for our ambitions.”
As of this writing, Loudoun has signed 16 players to contracts, including six international players. By comparison, USL teams are allotted seven international spots per club, and Martin expects to reach that quota for the first time in the club’s history, along with some other signings in the near future.
“I will re-sign a few more players from last season, and I would expect one more international signing in the next four weeks so that would help, and then probably three more pros (or) young pros that can compete and go after it, so I think we’re probably three or four guys away. We’ve got a couple of interesting guys coming into preseason that we’re really excited to work with and see how they do and it’s a really good base.”
The base includes players who have gradually been progressing through the USL. Goalkeeper Keegan Meyer and center back Wahab Ackwei played with USL League One teams New England Revolution II and Richmond Kickers, respectively, and Martin sees places for both.
“Keegan was someone we had pretty high on our draft board last year in terms of goalkeepers, so when he became available it made a lot of sense because we liked him last year and we think he’s got a lot of potential. Wahab really fits the profile of a pressing team, our team liked to press last year and at times got exposed because we didn’t have cover in behind a lot of times. So I’ll see what he can do and we’ll see where he is afterward and if it goes well, my hope is he gets a shot.”
Martin has helped international players like Kairou Amoustapha train with D.C. and Alioune Ndour transfer to the Portuguese Primera Liga, and thinks highly of this year’s crop as well, starting with Darluis Paz, an 18-year-old winger who arrives on loan from Venezuelan champions Deportivo La Guaira, and a pair of Ivory Coast players in fullback Gaoussou Samake and midfielder Nanan Houssou.
“(Paz) has played professional games even though he’s young and in Venezuela’s national team, and he’s just a dynamic attacking piece, he can create for others, he can drive by people, he’s got a little bit of a savviness to him, when we looked at him, we’re optimistic that he gets his chance sooner than later with the first team.”
“I first saw (Samake) when I went to the Ivory Coast and Ghana on a scouting trip (in) November 2019. I saw him play and I came back and I was like ‘Alright, this is a kid we need to take a look at for Loudoun and for the first team, (but) their season started (and) they were trying to win the League. I’m very excited to have him, he’s an attacking left back that is can provide service, score goals, cover ground, he’s unbelievably athletic and he’s a kid that just can kind of do it all. He’s also a guy that I see (who) could be a first-team (player) down the line, and I’ve seen him live multiple times, I’ve met the kid, so him coming over is a very good step. Nanan plays in the same league and when we were looking at him, I didn’t have a chance to see him live, but we’ve watched him numerous times; when we think of the combination of Drew and him as your six and your eight it gets me excited.”
With MLS-2 teams and attempting to adjust to how the first team plays in the wake of a coaching change, Martin has found a quick bond with Losada and Frutos.
“My conversations with them have all been very good. They’re Argentinian and my favorite manager to watch, who I’ve been fortunate enough to go study with a couple of times is (Marcelo) Bielsa, and I know Nico and Hernán are big Bielsa fans as well, so there’s a lot of similarities in the way we want to play. So I don’t think the transition will be that hard for me or the players, and I’m excited to see how some of these homegrown guys start to do it too.”