The day after making a splashy debut for D.C. United, contributing an assist the first time he touched the ball on a big stage, 17-year-old forward Michael Seaton was heading to Harrisburg, Pa.
His performance in the 1-1 friendly draw against Chivas Guadalajara on Friday night at RFK Stadium delighted United’s decision-makers but didn’t change their game plan: Seaton needed to rejoin the third-division Richmond Kickers in time for Saturday’s match in central Pennsylvania.
So goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, one of three United players heading to the assignment in Harrisburg, drove a team van two hours north with Seaton aboard. In the 77th minute, he scored his fifth goal of the USL-Pro season.
Seaton began the year on loan to the Kickers and, despite noticeable strides and the breakout effort against Chivas, Seaton will continue learning his craft two steps down from MLS.
“I am patient. I know I need more work,” he said after practicing with United on Tuesday afternoon. “Even today I had drills I messed up. I want to be consistent. I would love to go to the first team, but I understand what they are doing with me. They are taking their time making me a better player. I am being humble and patient, and when my time comes in a friendly, just go in and do my thing.”
Because of his age, Seaton lives at home with his mother, step-father and brother in Prince George’s County and practices with United through the week before reporting to Richmond. (He’ll accompany the Kickers on a three-game western swing this week.)
“There is something about the kid,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “But he still needs to be playing games. He still needs to be in Richmond. He is not getting that here. He still has a long way to go. Just because he is doing well with Richmond doesn’t mean we yank him from there and bring him back with us so he can sit and play very limited minutes. He needs to develop. It’s about the future.”
Seaton is also continuing his education after withdrawing from Central High School midway through his junior year; he works with a tutor multiple times each week and will ultimately test for a GED. On the road with the Kickers, “everyone goes out. I stay inside” to finish homework.
Said Kickers Coach Leigh Cowlishaw: “We keep an eye on him a bit. He’s 17, so it’s making sure he is keeping attention to detail and giving him additional reminders about things because it’s difficult to come in for just the games.”
Seaton, who signed a homegrown contract after starring in United’s youth academy, has appeared in 12 games for the second-place Kickers (10-0-7) and is tied for second on the team in goals. United has monitored his progress by sending assistant coaches to games and communicating regularly with Cowlishaw.
“When he first showed up, the physicality was a little overwhelming,” Dykstra said. “I had conversations with him: ‘If the referee isn’t calling it, hit them back.’ At the beginning, he was getting pushed off the ball. Now he is holding off guys.”
At 6 feet and 180 pounds, Seaton is big for his age. He also has breakaway speed. Technically and tactically, he is still learning the game. Against Chivas, seconds after stepping onto the field, he dummied an incoming throw-in, let the ball bounce ahead, then beat the defender to the end line and crossed back to Carlos Ruiz for a 12-yard finish in the 73rd minute. (Chivas drew even in stoppage time, 1-1.)
The next day, he scored in the 77th as the Kickers claimed a 1-0 victory over the City Islanders.
“I was nervous at RFK, but I had a good game and then I watched the tape, and listened to the commentators and took it to the next game, knowing I could do something special,” he said. “The announcers were saying, ‘Look at this young kid coming in and performing well. Look at Michael Seaton!’ It made me feel good. It gave me confidence” for Richmond’s match.
ESPN2 carried the United-Chivas friendly, and afterward, “my phone blew up with messages” from family and friends, he said. “ESPN is a big thing – I don’t care if it’s ESPN2, 3 or 4.”
United has no plans to recall him for league matches until Richmond’s campaign ends in late August. But with D.C. suffering its worst season ever and the attack on pace to set the MLS record for scoring futility, Seaton will probably end up receiving playing time this fall.
If United’s scoring problems continue, “will he get a look at some point? Yeah,” Olsen said. “But this is about him developing.”
When the Kickers are finished, “Benny will probably put me in,” Seaton said. “If he doesn’t, I am fine with that – just sit back and learn and keep practicing.”