For our latest look at football in the US, I sat down with one of my good friends/editors in media, Sean Maslin of Prost Amerika, to chat about his local Major League Soccer (MLS) club, DC United.
Q. For those who do not know DC United, can you tell us what they were like when the league started out?
Much like any MLS side DC had their growing pains early on but were able to correct themselves thanks to the likes of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce, and John Harkes who went on to win the initial MLS Cup and the 1996 US Open Cup.
Q. Name your all time eleven including coach.
Goalkeeper – Bill Hamid
Defenders -Tony Sanneh, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa
Midfield – Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce, Christian Gomez, John Harkes
Forwards – Raul Diaz Arce, Andy Najar
Coach – Bruce Arena.
Q. The club is known for bringing a young Fredy Adu to the league but what can be learnt from that experience?
Adu came to the MLS as the number one draft pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. In his first season he fared pretty well albeit in fairly difficult circumstances. At the time he was about fifteen years old and was playing against people twice his age. The idea of homegrown players, academy teams, and such were still close to five years away and the MLS seems to have learned their lesson when it comes to playing kids.
Q. What club world wide could you compare DC United to?
Liverpool. Historically one of the best clubs in the area but they haven’t had much success in terms of winning trophies as of late.
Q. DC and soccer in the area, what is it like, how is it growing etc?
Well, the first thing you have to understand is the Washington DC – Metro area historically has been a soccer hotbed. Go take a look at the number of famous soccer alumni that have come from the University of Maryland and University of Virginia and you will see what I mean. Also, due to Washington DC being a city that has so many international governmental organisations as well as international development agencies (World Bank, IMF, UN, etc.) you have a diverse and rich international culture.
In terms of growth we are seeing some progress. US Soccer just announced that the DMV will have their specific boys youth development academy scout and one of their sides, Bethesda SC, just made a deep run at the USDA playoffs over the summer. The US Soccer Foundation are also making a concerted effort towards engaging lower-income families by providing kids with the chance to play football after school and work on their homework.
Q. How are DC doing with their academy structure and blooding youth players?
Considering United’s financial difficulties, they have done fairly well. Andy Najar of Anderlecht is a DC United Youth Academy/Homegrown product and has had a very good career in Belgium.
One thing to bear in mind though, United were never sure if they were going to stay in DC so they were very risk-averse for many, many years when it came to investing in local talent, signing big name players, and advertising. Now that the club’s future is secure they are looking to expand the academy and their Homegrown Player programme. The club has signed a couple of different affiliate agreements with club’s in the region including the Calverton School, which is one of the powerhouse youth sides in the region. They will also be in the hunt for Hermann Trophy candidate Eryk Williamson of Maryland, who was one of their former academy players.
Q. Tell us your favorite RFK Stadium story?
I really enjoy walking around downstairs at field level and seeing all of the different signs and pictures from all of their former tenants. Also, there is a choice Chuck Brown picture.
Q. Presently, what is the problem with DC United?
Is there one? They have had a pretty tough season but they have made the playoffs in each of their last three seasons and have won a title in their last five (US Open Cup 2014). If you are looking at this season, injuries hit them very hard. They did not really have the roster depth necessary to go against a much improved Eastern Conference.
Q. Can you give us a short description of the stadium issue and what led up to the new one being built?
It is extremely, extremely difficult to build anything in Washington DC, let alone a stadium. DC City politics are very challenging to navigate around and with the city seeing four Mayors in under close to a decade they were trying to build a stadium at a very bad time. Also, for about half of it Marion Barry was on the DC City Council which means anything and everything has to involve him.
The new stadium was necessary because a) RFK Stadium was falling apart and b) DC pays about three million a season to the city to rent out RFK. Not a fiscally smart decision.
Q. Is the club ever going to get out of the past and start playing and behaving like the clubs do now (DP’s, South America, etc)?
Well they signed Paul Arriola (DP, USMNT), Bruno Miranda (Bolivian international), Zoltan Stieber (Hungarian international), and Russell Canouse (USMNT youth player, former Hoffenheim midfielder) in July so all indications are pointing towards a change in philosophy. Again, DC were in a precarious position because they were incurring such a high amount of debt from RFK. Now that RFK has been removed from the equation all indications are that United will spend more.
Q. What’s the fanbase like at DC?
There are three major DC United Supporters Groups – La Barra Brava, District Ultras, and Screaming Eagles. All three have been in existence since about 1996, making them some of the oldest supporters groups in the league. All three have high memberships and seem to be very well liked in the community. All three are also very heavily tied to the Central and Latin American communities.
Q. Bio yourself, where can we find you online, what you do in the sport, where you write, your podcasts etc?
I am the editor for Prost Amerika. You can also find my work in Soccer 360 Magazine, SoccerWire and BackPage Football.