When Arie Ammann was 5 years old, he turned to his mom Gina at RFK Stadium and asked, “How come daddy is so far out of the goal?” She laughed.
“Daddy” was Mike Ammann, who spent six seasons in MLS after launching his career with England’s Charlton Athletic.
Goalkeeping flowed through Arie’s veins at a young age, and now at 16, he is following a familiar family path. This month he accepted a two-year academy scholarship from Watford, the English second-tier club with 132 years of history.
Arie, a student at Woodgrove High School in Loudoun County, Va., is with D.C. United’s under-16 squad this week at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs in Texas. Depending on how the team fares, he could be headed to England as early as July 15.
Arie will live with a guest family in Watford, located about 15 miles outside of London, attend Harefield Academy daily and train with the under-18 program.
“We are very, very excited for him,” said Mike Ammann, 42, whose injury-shortened career ended after making 19 league starts for United in 2001. These days, the elder Ammann is a sales manager for an IT company and runs GK Icon USA, a goalkeeping school based in Northern Virginia.
“His drive and passion is there. He is doing what it takes to realize his goals. I took a back seat initially because, with my experiences in soccer, I didn’t want to put additional pressure on him,” said Ammann, whose two younger children do not play soccer. “He has embraced it. He is a lot more athletic than I ever was! I told him, ‘If you learn the tactical side, you’ve got a great future.'”
Arie, who is 6 feet and about 170 pounds, played two years for McLean Youth Soccer before joining United’s youth system last August.
United would have liked to retain him, but the lure of Europe was too strong.
He trained with Norwich City for five weeks last summer, with Derby County in January and with Watford over spring break. Through family lineage, he obtained a Swiss passport, which allowed him to enroll with Watford without a parent relocating to England.
He will have two years to earn a contract. He’ll retain amateur eligibility, keeping open the option of playing in college if the pro route does not pan out right away.
Mike Ammann’s soccer ties helped facilitate the Watford offer. Ammann is a coaching partner with Richard Lee, who plays for third-division Brentford and works for GK Icon in England. Lee and Watford goalkeepers coach Alec Chamberlain are acquaintances, and when Chamberlain mentioned to Lee he was searching for an academy keeper, Lee suggested the young Ammann.
Mike Ammann, who starred at Cal State Fullerton, played two seasons for Charlton before moving to Kansas City in MLS. He was involved in one of MLS’s first blockbuster trades: Ammann and midfielder Mark Chung to New York for future Hall of Famers Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas.
“To him, his hometown team is D.C. United,” Ammann said of his son. “But he realizes the soccer mentality is different in England. Soccer is everything to them. Every kid is passionate about it. Arie thrives on it and wants to be part of it.”