The kids are all right: Philly loss a "learning experience" for D.C. United youth movement

If D.C. United truly are going to build toward a brighter future and extract meaning from the club’s final 11 regular-season games, a picturesque night for soccer in Chester, Pa. was a good place to start.

And while the circumstances weren’t ideal given the litany of injuries forcing many of United coach Ben Olsen’s first-choice players out of the starting XI, the fact remains: D.C. started its youngest lineup in club history on Saturday.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the average age of United’s starters was 23.21 years old. Add to that the fact that at one point in the second half, all five of D.C.’s Homegrown players were on the pitch at the same time – one of them being forward Michael Seaton, who became the first player born after the league was founded to play in an MLS match – and the future was very much the present in a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

“It’s a learning experience for a lot of people out there, a lot of guys,” Olsen said.

With Chris Pontius, Luis Silva and Nick DeLeon all out, and Dwayne De Rosario entering the match as a second-half sub, James Riley was United’s most veteran player on the field in the first half.

Tthough both still younger than 23, midfielder Perry Kitchen and goalkeeper Bill Hamid assumed the role of grizzled vets. Collin Martin, who signed with the first team in July, received his first MLS start at 18 years old. In the second half, he nearly opened his MLS account, but Philadelphia defender Sheanon Williams saved his shot with a header off the line.

“It felt good to get a start, it was an amazing atmosphere,” Martin said. “It was fun to be out there with that group of guys. In the end though it doesn’t really matter because we lost. That was disappointing. You take each milestone and you build on it – I am excited to get back to work and improve on this start.”

Said Olsen of the former Wake Forest midfielder: “I think he is one of the guys on the field that, at least from a confidence standpoint, doesn’t care what type of game he’s in. He’s calm on the ball, he has ideas. The problem with Collin going forward is we have to find him a position, but I love his starting point. He’s a great soccer player and I was happy that he had a pretty good performance today.”

Seaton, 17, played 14 minutes in his first league action. A force with the Richmond Kickers on loan this season, he also assisted a goal by Carlos Ruiz on his first professional touch in a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara at RFK Stadium last month.

“He is doing great with his development,” Olsen said of Seaton. “He has a ways to go but our relationship with Richmond has been perfect for him. He has gone there, he has scored goals and gotten valuable minutes in a real league, real games, and he comes back. His growth from the time we saw him in January to now is pretty impressive.”

Yes, this was another loss – United’s league-worst 16th of the season – and the club still hasn’t won an MLS match on the road, and another shutout makes 13 on the year.

But the chance to play for a US Open Cup championship, the potential for a new soccer-specific stadium as early as 2016 and the thrusting of young talent into the spotlight has likely made the second half of an otherwise-miserable campaign far easier for United’s supporters to handle.

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