So: this will have to be a little bit different than the typical previews are going to be over the course of the season. Most of them will not begin with, “so, uh, is there going to be a team or nah?” Just keep that in mind expectation-wise. Above: future site of LUFC’s home venue.
This week’s recipient of a merciless grilling is Ryan Keefer of Black and Red United. Follow him for DC United coverage (and as far as I can gather, the only dedicated coverage out there of Loudoun United. You can see his 2019 preview of the squad here.
1) Is, uh, Loudoun going to have a full roster for Saturday? Certainly they have guys in the works as signings, but it seems a little late in the process to be still trying to put together a team.
The timeline has been tight for sure; Richie Williams was announced as coach at the end of January, had open tryouts one month before the opener and had a jersey reveal a week before the opener. Their building their stadium now and it won’t be ready until August, and they haven’t announced where they’ll play their first five home games this season, though they’ll probably be at Audi Field, D.C. United’s stadium. Their scrimmages have included a mix of USL vets, former Academy kids and trialists from DC’s preseason camp, some have signed deals, some haven’t, though presumably they’ll get done shortly after I write this (Wednesday afternoon). If not, don’t be surprised if Williams limbers up Saturday night so they can meet the minimum professional player level. I’m kidding on the last part. I think.
2) How does DC view Loudoun’s place in their youth-to-first-team setup? Do you anticipate they’ll be sending a lot of guys down from the senior roster and pulling others up from the academy?
About six months ago DC announced a Pathway 2 Pro developmental pyramid and Loudoun is next to the top of it under DC. I’d expect that they let kids come down to Loudoun from the first team for minutes, though the stream will be slow initially; DC has 24 players on the first team and needs as many bodies as possible. Though I would expect recent homegrown signings Donovan Pines and Antonio Bustamante get some time down here, along with third-string goalkeeper Earl Edwards. I’d also expect some non-professional Academy kids to get some time here also. Over a longer timeline, I would expect this to grow.
3) What are local expectations for the team? Are they expecting to perform well in USL, or is it strictly a developmental tool for DC?
I think there’s an awareness that they’ll be a developmental tool, though to what extent I’m not sure about. MLS teams traditionally start out of the blocks rough and stay rough for the first season or two; how this USL side will be handled is a little uncertain to me.
4) Who are the key players that Nashville fans should keep en eye on Saturday?
Shinya Kadono was a DC draft pick who looked OK with them and looked OK in the one scrimmage I saw (of two) that Loudoun had. He lined up as forward and dropped back into midfield occasionally and scored a goal, and could be the person that Loudoun looks to initially. Most of Loudoun’s international players joined the team in the last week and have upside, though I’d expect some clunkiness early on.
5) Do you have any predictions for the game (including a final score)?
Predictions? (Mr. T impression)…Well, Loudoun’s two scrimmages were against Richmond, who moved down to League One, and Bethlehem, who appeared to be playing a few trialists themselves. I’d expect Nashville to be more in sync, on the ball and still enjoying the high of their MLS announcements, and beat Loudoun 2-0.
Thanks again to Ryan for helping out. Don’t forget to check out his season preview, and the rest of the great content over at Black and Red United.