Inspired by rivals, DC United aim to nurture young talent with new USL side

LEESBURG, Va. – Shortly after D.C. United unveiled the name and logo of their new USL side Loudoun United on Wednesday night, D.C. general manager Dave Kasper cited MLS players who have flourished after USL experience.

The first two he mentioned – midfielder Tyler Adams and defender Aaron Long – both came through the New York Red Bulls' USL setup.

D.C.’s brass insist their new operation in exurban Loudoun County, Virginia – which will include their USL squad’s stadium, a training facility for the first team and a campus for the expansion of the club’s youth academy – is not patterned directly after their longstanding Atlantic Cup rivals.

But the message is clear. In terms of talent development, United know they have ground to make up against the same teams they dominated during MLS' early days. And they firmly believe their new USL operation, which will begin play next season, will be a major tool to that aim.

“We now have a true pathway for area players,” Kasper said. “As they’re growing up, they have two professional teams to support that are joined at the hip, and there’s a pathway for those players and a vision laid out in front of them of where they can go. We’ve seen in the last few years the MLS teams that have really embraced those USL clubs, how it’s paid off for them with developing young talent faster and with more opportunities.”

There will be an intentional effort for Loudoun to play a similar style and sign players with a similar talent profile to D.C., Kasper said. That profile will resemble the makeup of D.C.’s current youthful squad more than the resourceful, but less creative, sides the Black-and-Red have fielded in recent previous seasons.

“You’re starting to see this year we’ve become a much more exciting team, a team that has more possession, that is on the front foot a lot more,” Kasper said. “As we head into a new era of Audi Field, we want to be known as a team that plays a brand of soccer and a style that has an identity that our fans are proud of. And it’s going to be no different with our USL team.”

That desire will inform D.C.’s search for a USL head coach, a process that Kasper says has already involved some preliminary conversations. And it will inform an expected increase in Homegrown Player signings, Kasper said, though he was quick to point out the club already has a considerable academy history that includes current squad members Chris Durkin, Ian Harkes and Jalen Robinson.

“For every one of those players, there’s multiple players that just aren’t ready yet,” Kasper said. “It’s very difficult to give those players minutes when they’re just not ready. It’s not good for anybody. This is now a platform for that. And I think that’s what we’re seeing with the other teams that have wrapped their arms around the USL team.”

Kasper also indicated fielding a team with the aim of winning trophies at the USL level is a key part of player development for the MLS side.

“We’ll work very closely,” Kasper said. “The coaching staffs will be linked. We’ll be very strategic with helping them grow their roster, because we want to create a real synergy between both clubs. We want this club to be successful here in Loudoun County.”

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