DC United academy team ready for Ajax tourney

WASHINGTON – As D.C. United prepare to battle archrivals New York in league play this week, one of their youth teams will head abroad to represent MLS and US Soccer.

DC’s academy leaves Wednesday for Amsterdam and this weekend’s AEGON Future Cup 2011, a U-17 tournament hosted by famed Dutch club Ajax. The tournament runs Saturday through Monday.

After making two international trips in 2010 to mixed results, DC youth coach Roberto da Silva is looking to improve on this latest trip outside the United States.

“This is our third trip and we want to do better than our previous two,” he said. “We don’t care if we win, but we play to win every game.”

United’s U-17s traveled to South Africa last year and most recently played in Brazil in December. As a result, da Silva estimated that roughly half the team going to the Netherlands already has experience playing abroad.

And like the previous two trips, this one is going to be another difficult challenge. The tournament schedule sees the U-17s play group matches against China’s U-17 national team, and the youth teams of Anderlecht and Bayern Munich.

Da Silva said that being an American team comes with it the label of underdog – something that can be used as an advantage in a tournament like this.

“As an American group they see us as an inferior group, not as good,” he said. “That gives us a little bit of an advantage as the underdogs and we go in and surprise them.”

The squad making the trip mostly comprises United Academy players who normally play for D.C. United’s U-16s. Jalin Robinson, Suliamen Dainkeh and Cody Albrecht are some of the players looking to step up in order to lead this team to success in the Netherlands.

Captain Collin Martin, an attacking midfielder, is perhaps most important to DC’s hopes.

“He’s a phenomenal kid,” da Silva said. “I think he represents the new version of the American soccer player – he plays more like a perfect No. 10, like a Brazilian, a kid from Argentina. He rises to the challenge.”

Regardless of the outcome, the trip will surely be a rewarding experience for some of DC’s youngsters. Da Silva hopes that his players enjoy the chance to play in the Netherlands and put their best foot forward.

“I think it’s not only the experience," he said, "but the boys should enjoy themselves and try to show what the American kids are all about.”