One could make the case that, organizationally, this is the first time that Loudoun United head coach Ryan Martin has truly been on the same page with the first team since taking over D.C. United’s USL team. Going into 2020, Martin expected to have players like Kevin Paredes, Moses Nyeman, and Griffin Yow available to him on loan, but the pandemic effectively cut that pipeline off and ultimately the team’s already shortened season was shortened further from Covid.
In 2021, Martin had ample roster assets but went into the preseason without a first-team coach to work with to develop the players necessary to help lift the tide of the organizational boat. Even with that gap, Martin saw one Loudoun player (Drew Skundrich) end up spending the year with D.C., and a Loudoun trialist (Tony Alfaro) end up going directly onto the D.C. roster. 2021 also saw Gaoussou Samaké play with Loudoun, but train with D.C. most of the time en route to an MLS contract of his own this year. Since the 2020 offseason, Jacob Greene, Jeremy Garay, and Ted Ku-DiPietro have all signed homegrown contracts with the senior club, while DCU draft pick Sofiane Djeffal saw training time at Loudoun last summer.
Loudoun United is set to start their 2022 tomorrow afternoon at Segra Field with Indy Eleven, and are using a roster that on paper appears to be their youngest yet: 15 of the 25 players on the current roster are under 21 years of age, and 13 of those are 18 or younger.
If nothing else, this group will get an education.
So what are the expectations?
Loudoun has finished with the worst record in the USL Championship for two seasons running, so anything above that would be good! In the past, the bulk of Loudoun’s games have been against teams like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Charleston, independent sides coached by veterans looking to bring titles to their town. This year they’re in the 14-team Eastern Conference, a mix of those teams, stray MLS2 sides who haven’t moved to MLS Next Pro yet, a team new to the USL (Detroit City FC) or to the East (FC Tulsa) in general. It’s hard to tell what to exactly expect aside from being better than rock bottom.
Martin has talked about having tactical flexibility like the first team, and we’re liable to see that on this year’s side, who played a 343 or had the center forward drop in to play a 3412 a lot last year. They’ll have the guys to play a four-man backline from the jump of a game if they need to as well.
Is D.C. going to loan any guys down?
For sure. We know Greene and Kimarni Smith are the first names on the list. Garay may see some U20 time with El Salvador, which would take him away at times. Ku-DiPietro or Hayden Sargis may get a spot start or two to shake the rust off as well; Martin does an excellent job of sticking to a plan for minutes when players get loaned down.
What’s the Pathway look like?
DCU Academy to Loudoun: Near the end of last year, Martin gave more time for Academy kids, so youngsters like Jace Clark (16), Owen Walz (18), Abdellatif Aboukoura (17), and Matias Yohanes (18) got their first pro minutes last year. They’re all back this year, presumably for a larger role in the squad, but there are other, younger kids who may have the chance to be the next Paredes, Yow or Nyeman:
- Gavin Turner (15) recently returned from United States U15 camp,
- Matai Akinmboni (15) received international attention last year for training at Bayern Munich,
- Isaac Espinal, Arvid Lindquist and Ignacio Alem (all 16) were part of a USYNT talent camp last year,
- Goalkeeper Luke Peacock (15) joined D.C.’s preseason preparation, along with Dane Jacomen (19), who will not be joining the team until June.
Loudoun to D.C.: This year’s prime candidate to make the jump up is Hopkins. He came to Loudoun last year from the Academy and impressed with two goals and an assist in less than 800 minutes, trained with D.C. in the preseason, and scored the team’s first goal in 2022. He linked up a lot with Ku-DiPietro where Teddy KDP could run and Hopkins could find an incisive long through ball on a counter that would allow him space to punish opposition backlines with 20-yard shots off the crossbar. We’ll see what kind of role he takes on this year: Withdrawn forward? Playmaker (though based on Martin’s comments at the signing, perhaps Skage Simonsen takes that honor)? Something else?
Are there pro guys to watch?
Landry Houssou went from being on loan to a buy in the offseason, the latest Martin recruit from West Africa to stick around for a second season. His start last year was rough, but eventually grew into the role in central midfield. He (and Downs) will have to show some versatility as Garay will probably come down for time, and they’ll have to develop chemistry with some of the forwards up front.
Azaad Liadi saw a sub appearance in Week 1 for D.C. and may be the new Kairou Amoustapha, but one with a little more finishing acumen and the chances to open up space for his attacking teammates. He had a breakout year of sorts with nine goals in 27 games with League One side Tormenta FC, one of the best marks in USL League One.
Speaking of Martin recruits from Africa, Abdoul Zanne and Zoumana Diarra are last-minute signings from Ivory Coast who can play midfield and forward. Following Samaké’s success to get a pro deal, the pair are the next ones up to try and take a swing at a deal.
What would a gameday lineup look like?
I haven’t seen them play this preseason, so big salt with this:
Bottom line, what are these guys going to do?
This depends on what your definition of what the expectations are for the team. To bang a drum I’ve beaten before, I think MLS2 sides are here to develop, and winning is an added bonus. It sucks, but take a look at the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls USL sides of the last three or four years, and see where those players are now. Take a look at the Seattle Sounders USL side Tacoma Defiance of the last year or two, and where those players are now.
If Loudoun did better than the last year or two yet still lost a bit, but found their Aaronson brothers, their Caden Clark, their Obed Vargas, in the process, they’d take that tradeoff, and I expect others would too.
That’s not really an ideal answer, but since this is a preview of the team after all, I think this year’s Loudoun side may start slow as they grow into working with one another over the course of the next few weeks, as you could expect for a team whose average roster age is 19.8 years of age.
There is some talent and enough of a high caliber there to challenge for a playoff spot, the work (as Martin is keen to say) is up to them.