Ryan Martin, DC United Academy Director, Discusses Culture, Tactics, and the Future of DC United, Part 1

Oct 16, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United fans cheers during the second half against the New York City FC at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. D.C. United defeated New York City FC 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United fans cheers during the second half against the New York City FC at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. D.C. United defeated New York City FC 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Part one of a three part series in which Ryan Martin, Director of the DC United Academy, discusses the culture, tactics, and future of DC United.

On Ryan Martin’s Background

When Ryan Martin was announced as the new Director of DC United’s Academy, I found myself excited about his background and experience, interested in the potential for what he could bring to an Academy which has produced great established players like Bill Hamid and Andy Najar. His resume alone is worth talking about.

An assistant coach at Wake Forest from 2007 to 2015, he built a reputation for recruiting incredible players on an impressive and successful college team. MLS youth standouts Jack Harrison, Sean Okoli, Chris Duvall, Jared Watts, and DC Academy players Jalen Robinson and Ian Harkes all had breakouts with Wake Forest, and all of them were recruited by Ryan Martin.

An astute eye for talent, Ryan met John Harkes, a DC United legend, while recruiting his son Ian, a DC United Academy alumni. During the recruitment process and while Ian was at Wake Forest, Ryan got to know John well, noting that they “both see the game the same way.” So when John Harkes became the head coach of a new USL Soccer team, FC Cincinnati, Harkes reached out to Ryan to become his assistant coach.

Ryan was faced with a unique challenge, to build a roster of players out of absolute nothing with John.

When asking what Ryan looked for while recruiting players for FC Cincinnati, I expected a mix of qualities to be listed from experience to physicality but was surprised when he told me he sought out “good character, high end people.” Throughout our conversation, we spoke at length about the importance of being an honest and hard working player, about how players with those attributes tend to be the most successful.

Constructing a team built with the philosophy of finding “good character, high end people,” FC Cincinnati, a team entering it’s inaugural season, went 16-6-8 with 56 points and finished 3rd out of 29 in the USL. An incredible achievement for a team which months before preseason, had zero players signed.

A fantastic debut season behind him, Ryan was approached by DC United to join as the Director of its Academy. Even when hired at Cincinnati, Ryan told John Harkes that his goal was to join an MLS club someday, and Harkes was instrumental in Ryan’s decision to join DC.

Though DC’s RFK stadium may carry a reputation of being in disrepair, Ryan was impressed with the DC’s Academy system and left his first conversation with General Manager Dave Kasper “very impressed with the club.” More so, he said “DC has a lot of good people” and was excited for this new opportunity.

On the culture of the Academy and his place in fostering it

Having built a reputation of finding and developing players, he relayed that he wants to continue his work with players who are honest and passionate, key characteristics, while at DC. Finding players who are brought in and do the work, who “don’t take shortcuts in the classroom or on the soccer field” are the ones who succeed, according to Ryan, and those values are meant to be the bedrock of DC’s Academy.

On developing talent within the Academy, he expressed that you can see a special talent, but they’re just a talent until they reach their potential. “The people who don’t make it or reach their potential are the players who either don’t love the game or have a good head on their shoulders.”

He spoke about DC United’s own history for examples of success, looking at Ben Olsen, stating “he was a special talent, one of his best characteristics was his fighting spirit and mentality.” He also spoke about John Harkes, saying John was “talented, but his personality and character is what pushed him.”

In strengthening DC’s Academy, Ryan made clear that as Director, its his part to educate the young players and get them tools to get into a school and grow into adults if they’re not going to make it as a pro. High expectations are being set in the academy, not only for youth player development, but also for youth personal development as he described to me that there’s a social wellness coordinator in the academy who runs a study hall every week for the players. “Every player wants to be a pro, the problem is they don’t realize how hard it is for them to be a pro.”

Next: 2017 MLS SuperDraft Rounds 1 & 2 Analysis: DC United

In the day to day, no single day is the same as the last. Ryan gets to the office around 8am, sitting down in different staff meetings for operational reports, weekly tactical reports on where each academy team is, and what the upcoming training sessions are. There’s a camp facet in how to continue integrating camps. Daily, he has the chance to spend some time with Dave Kasper, picking each others brain about soccer, the academy, and the club. He interacts with Ben Olsen and first team staff, and trains teams from 4:30 to 6:30, then sticks around for other training sessions as well.

Ryan’s role is not only the Director of the Academy, though, he was also brought on as the U-16 coach. He told me his “passion is first and foremost as a coach,”  and that he “couldn’t oversee the academy without diving deep into it as well,” wanting to find flaws in the system and improve it while directly coaching the next generation of DC United players.

This is part one of a three part series discussing the culture, tactics, and future of DC United through an interview with Director Ryan Martin. You can read Part Two here, with Part Three here