By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)
As freshmen, Jorge Calix and Eryk Williamson did not know each other very well. The pair attends T.C. Williams High School, but had not had much contact, except on the soccer field, where they first played against one another as youngsters in the Virginia State Cup.
Just a few years on, their paths are heavily linked both on and off the field. They train together at D.C. United’s youth academy in Washington, and now both have committed to play college soccer for the University of Maryland this fall after playing for United’s Under-17/18 squad.
Calix, who was born in Iowa to Honduran parents but moved to Alexandria as a baby, joined United’s academy almost five years ago and is a member of the Honduras Under-20 National Team, having previously represented the U.S. Meanwhile, Williamson is part of the U.S. Under-18 team, and also helped the Titans win the state championship last summer.
D.C. United plays in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the premier youth soccer league for boys in this country. The league has three age groups: Under-13/14s, Under-15/16s and Under-17/18s, and boys train three or four times a week before playing games at the weekend against other USSDA teams.
Calix believes being involved with such a high-level program has enabled him to become a much better player, as he is matching up against the best of the best in his age group every day in training.
“I play with great guys,” he said. “Some of the guys I play with now are off to college, some have signed professional contracts, some play with their national team. It’s just a high level and you learn your best soccer from playing at a high level. You want to be where the best players are at, that’s how you’re going to get better, by being in a good soccer environment.”
Meanwhile, Williamson enjoys how well organized United’s academy setup is, and how it presents an apparent pathway to a playing career in the professional ranks.
“I knew every training session what they were doing, everything was scheduled a week before and they made sure that everything was on pinpoint and making sure everything was perfect,” he said. “It really caught my attention when I came to train with them and I really liked it, because it really shows how to become a professional soccer player.
“I’ve learned that you have to pay attention to every detail. Here, every touch has to be perfect, making sure you’re focused at all times during the game and just how to be a professional soccer player, what it takes, the risks you have to give up and how much dedication it takes.”
Last month, both players went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. as guest players with United’s first team, who are preparing for the 2015 Major League Soccer season. Academy players being invited to train with the senior team in preseason is a relatively rare occurrence, so this was a chance of a lifetime for both.
“It was a great experience,” Calix said. “I learned a lot. It’s a much higher level of soccer, much more physical, everything is just higher at the professional level. Being around them just made me better, I thought, great coaches, great players, it was a great environment.
“The first couple of days, they welcomed us and it was a bit hard to get used to the team and get used to the level, but then after a while you gain confidence and you fit right in as if you’re part of the team. Even though they’re a lot older than us, once you gain confidence you play your game and you feel like you belong there and you fit right in with the team.”
“It was good, they were great guys, they were helping us out,” Williamson agreed. “Having the guys there that have experience helping us out along the way was even better because it helped us progress as players. They were talking to us after, during, even before practice, telling us to get on the ball if we are doing an attacking drill or making sure we’re tuned in defending.”
Both chose Maryland because of its proximity to Alexandria, and also because of the Terps’ strong record of producing top players. As well as being perennial contenders for the NCAA national championship, Maryland regularly produce players who go on to the highest levels of the game, like former players Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez, who were part of the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
“[Maryland is] a very good program, and they produce a lot of professionals,” Calix said. “It’s a great place, a lot of great coaches, great players, it’s a great environment and it’s close to home, that way my parents can come and watch me because ever since I was little they’ve been there supporting me and I don’t want that to end. I want them to be there at the real thing.”
“I visited a couple of other schools, and I was impressed at Maryland by just really how professional they were, knowing that I want to become a professional soccer player,” Williamson added. “The professional environment they had, knowing they produce many professional players, but the coaches as well, they were professional guys, they made sure my Mom was okay with everything before talking to me.”