On Tuesday, D.C. United management announced that goalkeeper Joe Willis, defender Jalen Robinson, midfielder-forward Christiano Francois, and forward Michael Seaton have all been sent on loan to USL Professional Division side Richmond Kickers for the 2014 season.
As per the partnership set between the two clubs, all four players are eligible to return to D.C. United at any time. United can also send down additional players who are recovering from injury or just need additional playing time.
The Richmond Kickers are one of the oldest clubs currently operating in the United States. The club was originally founded back in 1993. The 1995 winner of the U.S. Open Cup and a 2-time Champion in the USL Second Division (the predecessor of USL Pro), the Kickers are coming off a season where they were the USL Pro Regular Season Champions. Although the club only lost two matches during the regular season, they fell out of the USL Pro Playoffs in the semi-finals to the Charlotte Eagles 2-1.
The two clubs started their affiliation last season and had extended their arrangement in the off-season. Across all of Major League Soccer, clubs are increasingly setting up affiliation arrangements with USL Pro sides as a means of giving talent the opportunity to get match experience.
Among the four players sent out on loan for D.C. United, perhaps the most surprising was Joe Willis. Willis has served as starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid's backup for the past two seasons and performed admirably when called upon. Willis has twenty-three starts in his career with D.C. United and actually saved two penalty kicks against the Richmond Kickers last season in United's U.S. Open Cup run. However, he seemed to have lost the battle for the backup position this preseason to Andrew Dykstra, who was the 2013 USL Pro Goalkeeper of the Year for Richmond.
The other three players in the loan deal were expected to be set because each of them still requires additional experience and playing time. Robinson, who is currently out with a hamstring injury, was signed as a Homegrown Player from the D.C. United Youth Academy in January. Meanwhile, Francois was signed in a special waiver draft in January from the University of Maryland. Both of these should be starters for the Kickers this season. It is unlikely that either player will receive significant minutes with United this season as both are very raw players and need time adjusting to the professional game.
Seaton, on the other hand, should receive some playing time with D.C. United this season. Although he is only 17 years old, he has already shown in limited appearances with the United and with the Jamaica Men's National Team that he can make an impact on the attack. He scored 5 goals with the Kickers last season in 15 matches. Should United's current scoring plight continue and if Seaton were to get off to a hot start for the Kickers there might be calls to bring him up permanently.
The Kickers will start their 2014 USL Pro campaign on Saturday against the Charleston Battery in Charleston, South Carolina. The match will be available on the USL Pro YouTube website