Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., where his father, Tony da Luz, has coached the Wake Forest University women’s team since 1997, da Luz spent many summer weekends on family trips to Washington to attend matches at RFK Stadium. A poster of Marco Etcheverry, United’s star playmaker during the club’s glory years, hung from his bedroom wall.
“It’s pretty crazy being here now,” he said. “United was the closest MLS team to where we lived, so this became my team.”
United (5-5-8, 23 points) acquired the 23-year-old midfielder from the New York Red Bulls on Monday. Coach Ben Olsen has pegged him as a replacement for Brazilian midfielder Fred, a top substitute who is being transferred to Australian club Melbourne Heart following Wednesday’s home match against the last-place New England Revolution (3-9-7, 16).
Da Luz, a 2010 first-round draft pick from Wake Forest, didn’t appear in any league matches as a rookie but played in seven games this season, making four starts and contributing one goal and one assist.
Left wing is his primary position, but he could also serve in the middle and on the right side.
“He’s played good minutes with a very good team,” Olsen said. “He’s very technical, he’s versatile and I think he’s excited for a fresh start.”
Da Luz’s exposure to soccer came at an early age. His father was a defensive midfielder and captain at the University of San Diego before serving as an assistant coach for the men’s team for seven years. He then oversaw the launch of the women’s program, and in the last of his five seasons he guided the Toreros to their first NCAA tournament berth.
Just a kid, Austin was a regular visitor at the men’s and women’s practices — “messing around and bugging the guys,” he said.
Since Tony was hired by Wake Forest in 1997, the Demon Deacons women haven’t failed to secure a winning season and an NCAA bid. Last fall, Wake won its first ACC championship.
While his father coached, Austin excelled in youth leagues and worked his way into pickup games with players from the perennially ranked men’s team. His tutors included Michael Parkhurst, the 2005 MLS rookie of the year with the Revolution, who is now playing in Denmark; Jeremiah White, who has enjoyed a long European career; and MLS veterans Brian Carroll and Will Hesmer. “I basically grew up around them,” he said.
Austin also took a keen interest in MLS, and with Winston-Salem about five hours from Washington, the family regularly ventured to United games and spent the rest of the weekend visiting Washington landmarks. Scott Garlick, a United goalkeeper who remained friends with Tony from their days at San Diego, often provided tickets.
“He was such a fan of that team,” Tony said. “He loved going to RFK.”
After two years at a prep school in Texas, Austin excelled for Wake Forest, making 80 appearances between 2006 and ’09 and setting the program record for career assists (39), including 15 as a senior. In that four-year stretch, the Demon Deacons were 78-11-11, advanced to the NCAA College Cup semifinals each season and won the 2007 national championship.
The Red Bulls used the No. 14 overall pick last year to claim da Luz, who seemed to be making steady progress this season when New York dealt him to United for an extra international roster slot. (MLS limits the number of foreign players per team to eight, but clubs are allowed to trade for additional openings.)
“I heard rumblings for a couple days” about a possible trade, he said. “It was pretty surprising.”
Aside from all the visits to RFK as a spectator, da Luz visited with Wake Forest for a spring exhibition against Maryland a few years ago. Early this season, he didn’t travel with the Red Bulls to Washington for a 4-0 victory over United.
“He’s good on the ball, a good young player, and anytime you can bring in a kid like that, it’s a good thing,” said United midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, da Luz’s teammate with the Red Bulls before he was traded to D.C. three weeks ago. “We definitely need a little bit more depth on the flanks, and he’s a quality addition.”
United notes: D.C. (1-0-4 in the past five matches) has the best road record in the Eastern Conference (3-3-3) but is 2-2-5 at home, one of the worst marks in the league. . . . United captain Josh Wolff (hamstring) has been upgraded to probable after missing Saturday’s match at FC Dallas. . . . Benny Feilhaber, a U.S. national team midfielder, is serving a red card suspension for the Revolution, which is in a 0-6-3 rut.