DC United academy U-18s player Jalen Robinson
ISI/Michael Janosz

D.C. United Academy teams head to winter showcase

WASHINGTON – The first team may have departed the nation’s capital for their offseason break, but for D.C. United’s Academy, the work is very much an ongoing process.

The bulk of D.C.’s Development Academy season doesn’t start until March 2012, but training sessions started this fall, with various friendlies scheduled along the way to keep the competitive juices flowing.

Like always, the goal is to further the development of the area’s young talent.

“Individual players are our focus throughout the year,” U-18 coach Nolan Sheldon told MLSsoccer.com. “If we win games as a byproduct of the talent we have on the team and the level of play we exhibit on the field, great.”

This week, the 18s and 16s will travel to Sarasota, Fla., for this week’s US Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase. Starting on Saturday, they’ll get the chance to play teams outside their region, going up against youth sides from Sporting Kansas City, Vardar (Michigan) and Sockers FC (Chicago).

One of the biggest changes made heading into this new Academy year is a complete tactical switch. All of D.C.’s youth sides are now playing in a 4-3-3 system under the watchful eye of assistant coach Sonny Silooy, a former Ajax player. The switch has required some patience from players and coaches alike, and has been a point of emphasis during the fall training sessions.

“The difficult part is the starting positions and then the mobility within the formations,” Sheldon said. “We’ve been doing a lot of passing and receiving in the preseason building up to these games. We’ve been doing a lot of discipline to your starting position and what kind of runs to make, just to make sure that we are very understanding of the proper spacing of every player so we’ve been concentrating a lot on buildup play.”

There’s plenty of talent that has the Academy coaches excited about the coming season. Patrick Foss, recently converted to left back, has an outstanding left foot and is growing into his new position. Also on the left wing is Collin Martin, and Jalen Robinson anchors the U-18s defense.

A member of this summer’s US U-18 squad that competed at the Milk Cup, Robinson is slated to play center back for D.C. and is committed to playing at Wake Forest next fall. Commended for his tremendous athletic ability and technical skills, Robinson’s versatility is also a great asset, and he’s able to play in the midfield as well.

“He’s the type of player that can cover the space in midfield and is disciplined enough and talented enough to do that workload,” Sheldon said.

The scattershot nature of the Development Academy presents a challenge for D.C. – who officially played their first games of the year over the weekend of Nov. 19-20 – but the chance to head to Florida is another step in the road towards preparation for March, while trying to prepare players for a possible chance at one day making the first team.

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @travismclark.