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Ajax visit serves as reminder for DC youth academy

WASHINGTON — When Ajax take the field Sunday against D.C. United, players developed in the world-famous Ajax Youth Training Center will be on display.

But the newly crowned Dutch champions won’t be the only side with academy-developed players representing the first team — United boast a few rising stars of their own. Bill Hamid, Ethan White, Conor Shanosky and Andy Najar will get the chance to strut their stuff against a team that basically wrote the book on academy structure.

Hamid paid tribute to the role the DC Academy played in his development.

“It was definitely a big tool in me becoming a pro and having the little bit of success I’ve had,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “All these academy teams are modeled after European-style club academy systems. When they have training every day of the week, they are focusing on your weak points. It’s the exact same stuff Ajax works on in their academy.”

The youth movement has taken off in DC in particular, where academy products Najar and White have joined Hamid in the starting lineup and already contributed this season. Najar’s story is well known, having been located in the high school system after moving to the United States as a teenager. White, meanwhile, signed a contract after two years at the University of Maryland.

They’re the first fruit of a process designed to close the gap between MLS teams and the likes of Ajax in terms of youth development.

“We’re working on it right now,” Hamid said. “We’re not far from it. I think the first thing started off by getting these professional teams academy teams.”

Coming up with the right formula isn’t just being done on a team-by-team basis. US Soccer as an organization has spent time and money on learning how to improve methods across the country. Technical director Claudio Reyna recently introduced a coaching curriculum with the goal to improve and streamline youth development in America.

Of course, there’s a long way to go before teams begin to even approach the same success that programs like Ajax have in the past, but United’s early achievements are a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

“For all of us to make it and have the success that we’ve had, I feel like that’s a job well done by the academy,” Hamid said.

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.