“Everyone knows Ajax,” said United forward Michael Seaton, a 17-year-old who jumped from the academy to the first team in January. “Just off that, I’ve learned a lot from him. He kept telling me to hold my head up, be composed, stuff like that, and to learn, take criticism.”
Added midfielder Collin Martin, an 18-year-old academy product signed this week: “From early on, he’s been guiding me, helping me understand my talents, my weaknesses, helping me grow.”
To Silooy, the goal ultimately is to produce players, such as Seaton and Martin, who can ink “homegrown” contracts allowing them to forego the draft process and immediately join Olsen’s squad.
When deemed a candidate for a professional deal, a player is typically auditioned in first-team training. There are constant conversations between Silooy and the front office, meanwhile, regarding not only the evaluation of academy players but also the skill sets ingrained in them.
“We talk with Sonny a lot about things we see that are missing with the American player,” said United general manager Dave Kasper, noting youth development in the U.S. begins much later than it does in Europe and South America. “It’s about philosophy, keeping the ball on the ground, developing players who have good technique, so that when they get to the next level, they’re comfortable on the ball.”
In addition to the success stories of Hamid and Najar, United have seen academy products Ethan White and Conor Shanosky grow into increased roles this season. Seaton and Martin could be the next to contribute.
While Silooy has the ambition to be a head coach one day, he knows his current post isn’t about wins and losses — it’s about prepping his players for what he hopes will be long, fruitful careers.
That’s the Ajax way, after all, and he knows that as well as anyone.
“When you play very well, you dominate the game, and you lose the game unlucky, it’s OK. We continue our process, we continue our program,” Silooy said. “We’re working not for two or three years. We are working for 20 years, so that the players have 20 years of tools to be a professional soccer player.”