(This is the second of a two-part series. The first can be found here).
Loudoun United coach Ryan Martin’s familiarity with D.C. United’s Academy players before moving more to Loudoun served as a conduit for many of the Academy players to get their first professional minutes; half of Martin’s 18 in their opener vs. Philadelphia Union II were from the Academy, including starters Moses Nyeman and Kevin Paredes, both of whom signed homegrown deals with D.C. after appearing with Loudoun. Both impressed in their first 2020 action and Martin has enjoyed watching their development, along with their Academy teammate (and fellow homegrown signing) Griffin Yow.
“It’s been fun to watch the progression. I think Moses has just really, really taken off and I think he’s finally healthy for really the first extended period in his short career; he’s had lingering issues but he’s healthy now and to show well (in preseason) was a really big moment for him. He’s one that’s kind of above his years and the way he is as a person, he’s just a more mature kid than than your average 16 year old kid. We laugh because he says things at the end of training and 25-year old guys sit there and listen because it’s spot on, it’s intelligent, so it’s pretty impressive. Griffin when he came in he looked very good he looked sharp, explosive. Obviously, the first team had a couple of injuries but otherwise, he was going to feature for us in that first game. Kevin is just a special little talent and he’s probably a little bit behind in terms of the development part, because he missed such a big part of preseason because of an injury, but he’s just so talented and his mentality is one of those ones where he just always finds a way, he never hides from the game. So I’m comfortable because I know what I’ll get from all three of them. Even when we had Griffin come in and play an exhibition game against American University, our assistant coach (Victor Lonchuk) who just joined us this year said ‘Well, Griffin just knows how you want to play,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ve had him for three years.’ I’ve been pleased, Ted Ku-DiPietro is making some progress, we’re happy with where he is. Jeremy Garay is one that I think has a tremendous upside and I think he had 90 passes (vs. Philly), for a kid that at that level was really, really good. Adam Lundegard just committed to Clemson and he’s another one we just think very highly of, so that was also part of the makeup of the team is we just feel really good about a lot of the young Academy kids, we just think they’ve got some quality to them that we really want to see it through.”
The Pathway is something you hear often from the organization; Martin was D.C.’s Academy Director when the initiative between D.C. United and local youth clubs was announced, and it was something that was mentioned again as recently as last week by Nyeman in an interview. With Martin seeing it now on the Loudoun side, he looks at it within a couple of different facets.
“I think it’s twofold; I think Loudoun, in terms of development pathway in a lot of ways, is built more for guys like Jeremy, Jacob, and Lundy, where it takes guys that maybe aren’t quite ready to become like to be a full time professional like a Moses, Griffin and Kevin and gives them an opportunity to be a pro really without losing eligibility, and to put them in a place where they get games, they get opportunities and it really maximizes their growth. It is really a very good stepping stone between the Academy and the first team. Because when you get to the first team. Whether you like it or not, there’s not a lot of time for development in organizations because the lifespan of coaches is short. We’re fortunate because Ben (Olsen) has been here for so long, but a lot of places don’t have time to focus on that part where you know in this environment, my role is I do have time, and it’s perfect for those guys to get a chance.”
“The reverse is, Moses, Griff and Kevin are very talented players that we’ve known for a while, their first team level potential. So my main role for them is, can I put them in an environment and bring them down, where I prepare them for a game day. They’ll get training sessions with the first team. They’ll get to learn from from Ben, and to play at that level is tremendous, the league is getting better and better. Edison Flores to work with Griff, and Paul Arriola to talk with Kevin, and Mo’s talked with Russell Canouse and Felipe Martins, lot of great mentors. My role with them is different from Jeremy, Jacob, and those guys where I create the environment for those guys to you know make it or not, and then for Moses and (Yow and Paredes) is to make them understand how important the game is when they come down, can they have a consistent level of play, can have a consistent level competing really where when say, it’s an Open Cup (game), that when they step up there, they’re prepared to step on that field and compete. So whether it’s scouting reports, whether video afterwards, a lot of the stuff I’ll do with those three in particular are more remote or off the phone or before games. But then the training side, that becomes where I can really push the Jeremys, Jacobs, Lundys, Ted Ku-DiPietros. ‘Here’s your platform, you’re gonna sink or swim,’ and so that’s when we talk as an organization, this is kind of what we’ve envisioned with the setting and you know we’re pretty happy with where it is and that’s another one why we wanted to get younger, we wanted guys that we felt had a true potential have a chance to make it.”
Martin is also clear that while the influx of Academy players last year served as a benefit for the first team, it also served to set a tone for Loudoun on a longer timeline. “It wasn’t like a gift of only giving them opportunity, it was because when I gave Moses a chance to play, it was because Moses is a special player, and my role is here to help him get to the first team and he’s gotta be playing for me, then you know you start to see it as he got two or three games underneath his belt, you could see that the kid can play, and he can be special in different things. When I came in, Griff was already signed so that was a little bit of a different situation. Jeremy, I brought him in because he plays the way the role that I wanted to show that there was a couple things one was, I was trying to change the style and system of play when I first took the job. So the easiest guys for me to bring in are guys that I worked with for two or three years in the academy, to help me implement it whether it was in training, or whether it was around it. As for Moses, Griff, Kevin, Jeremy, (they) all played really big roles in just helping shift that over, so this year, I’ve told them all, ‘I’m going to treat you as true professional, you have to earn your opportunities. I didn’t bring guys in last year necessarily just give them opportunities, I brought him in because they are special, my hope is Jeremy really turns the corner this year in particular, he’s one I think has tremendous potential, especially in the way the first team plays.”
Martin has worked with a lot of the players on Loudoun (and a few on D.C.) United’s roster in a short time, based on his familiarity with them at the Academy, but he knows that that same degree of familiarity will diminish over time. But he keeps in regular contact so that he can keep close to who the next Nyeman, Yow or Paredes may be. “I lean heavily on Dave (Sanford, D.C. Academy Director), I see video, and every week Stewart (Mairs, D.C.’s Technical Director), myself, Dave all have a conference call and discuss guys that are training with me that maybe need games with him (because they’re not competing or they’re not ready), who are guys with the Academy that maybe need to be pushed a little bit, to come up and train. And if they do well then it can turn into an academy contract or it could turn into something else.
We have weekly conversations, the players going in and out do change week to week, in terms of who’s training who’s not, and a lot of it’s just trying to really instill habits and consistency in those guys. It’s like, ‘well, if you’re gonna mess around in the academy and not train well or not show up or not do what you’re doing, then you’re not going to get rewarded by training and playing at Loudoun.’ So there’s weekly conversations with Dave and Stewart to get really a true pathway of who deserves training minutes, who deserve game minutes, what can we do to expedite the process of the next crop coming through. We feel really good about, in particular the U-15s. And those kids by the time they get to me are going to be so different than when there was their 13. So I lean heavily on those guys and talk to them quite a bit, and they play at Segra which helps as well.”