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2021 Loudoun United preview

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D.C. United’s USL team gets underway Sunday and we give their winter a look.

Xavi Dussaq / Loudoun United

Like a lot of teams, Loudoun United had a lot thrown at them in 2020 with the Covid lockdowns impacting their team through most of the season, the end result being one that many would like to forget. In response to this, Loudoun headed into 2021 with the sense of having a complete squad and is now looking forward to logging more of a performance that could meet or even top 2019, which saw them just miss out on a playoff berth. So let’s take a look at D.C. United’s USL Championship affiliate:

Loudoun United: 1-9-3, 17th (last) in Eastern Conference, worst record in USL Championship, season ended early due to multiple Covid cases among the protected roster.

Head coach: Ryan Martin. 2nd full season with the team.

Key additions: Drew Skundrich, Gaoussou Samake, Keegan Meyer, Darluis Paz.

Key losses: Alioune Ndour (transfer to Beleneses), Simon Lefebvre (signed with Louisville FC), Shane Wiedt (signed with Pittsburgh Riverhounds).

Projected starting XI: I’m basing this on about a half hour of an intra-squad scrimmage and pictures from one of the team’s two friendlies, so my best guess is:

Best offseason move: Drew Skundrich gets to live with and work many days near his wife, Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan. For a guy who has been in the top quarter of defensive actions for midfielders, hopefully, that not only bumps his game up but gives him a chance to be the rising tide that lifts the boat for Loudoun. If he’s working with D.C. in practices, he may have to quarantine and miss a chunk of games, but given his resume at Stanford and three years of USL soccer, the last two at Sacramento, he could serve as a leader among the group.

Reasons to be worried: To repeat, Loudoun has played 2 preseason games, giving up 5 goals to D.C. United last month and 4 goals to Philadelphia Union II last Sunday. Of the two teams they played competitively, one is their affiliate, the other isn’t playing in the USL this year. Given that they allowed 7 shots a game in a shortened 2020 and for fear of catching the ‘Rona, didn’t receive the USL Wooden Spoon in earnest, giving up a lot of goals is a concern! A bulk of the Loudoun squad are new to second division soccer (or soccer in North America in general), and need to acclimate quickly. If not, those few predictions that have them finishing dead last in the Atlantic Division (and perhaps the Eastern Conference again) will come to fruition.

Why Loudoun are worth watching: With Jovanny Bolivar coming down on loan, D.C. fans get to see how he progresses week to week. It also wouldn’t be out of the question to see players like D.C. draft pick Michael DeShields and Jacob Greene to get time in Loudoun once available. Bolivar will get to be next to Deportivo La Guaira teammate Darluis Paz who joined Loudoun directly on loan, and has had his own stock talked up on numerous occasions by Martin as someone to get a look with the top tier, along with left-back Samake. So there may be enough to check out for first team fans, while at the same time being able to get in on the ground floor for others, for a team with some potential.

Where will Loudoun finish? It’s hard to say. If Martin can get the three new internationals up and running quickly, Meyer (and defenders Wahab Ackwei and Hassan Pinto, both of the Richmond Kickers) can continue their upward trajectory and everyone can get in sync ahead of teams like the retooling Pittsburgh Riverhounds and (Sunday’s opponent) Miami FC, there might be enough there to flirt with the last playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.