Youth development is considered critical to MLS catching up to the rest of the soccer world. To that end, clubs have operated academies for the purpose of cultivating talent and, in the case of elite players, signing homegrown prospects. The most notable success stories have been Bill Hamid, Andy Najar, Juan Agudelo and DeAndre Yedlin.

Now, D.C. United is taking the next step: a residency program for some of its academy players, starting this fall.

The club announced Thursday that it has entered a partnership with The Calverton School in southern Maryland for players ages 14 to 18 to enroll in classes and live on campus while training daily under United’s supervision. Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps also have residency programs.

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The parties agreed to a three-year deal but envision a long-term relationship.

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United will focus on players in the D.C. region but look to extend its reach to areas that do not fall into the territory of rival MLS teams, such as North Carolina and South Carolina. It will also seek to attract international players.

Initially, the club’s broad academy operations will remain the same for most of the 140 participants on teams ranging from under-12 to under-18: Players will continue attending their regular schools and report to training at area facilities.

In the first year, United is looking to incorporate between 12 and 20 players into the Calverton program, said Nolan Sheldon, United’s director of youth development.

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“It’s an important next step,” he said. “It puts us on that next level in what we can do for our academy guys. It’s a necessary step for a kid wanting to maximize his development.”

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Calverton — a prep school founded in 1967 with 400 students in kindergarten through 12th grade — is located in Huntingtown, Md., 35 miles southeast of RFK Stadium.

Under the plan, prospective candidates would have to meet United’s soccer standards and Calverton’s academic standards. They would live in a group house in Calverton’s One World Residential Village. A house parent would also reside there. Players would train in the morning at the school, attend classes all day and receive transportation to the RFK grounds for afternoon sessions with the broader academy. (They would not play for Calverton’s varsity teams.) United would also use Calverton facilities for some matches and weekend workouts.

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The benefit, Sheldon said, is to better manage players’ daily routine and add stability and support. “It’s a controlled environment to develop players,” he said.

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United would underwrite costs for some players; others would receive partial scholarships. Like the rest of Calverton’s student body, players would be able to apply for financial aid. Tuition for grades nine through 12 is $19,325 annually.

United has already approached some candidates about entering the Calverton program. The organization plans to identify others at residency camps in June and announce the incoming class this summer.

“Our goal is to provide a challenging soccer environment to help players reach their full potential,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said in a written statement, “and to identify and develop players who can one day become professional players.”

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On a local scale, United’s set-up is not unlike Bradenton Academy, a residential soccer development program in Florida that attracts players from around the country.

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Real Salt Lake operates its residential academy in Arizona. Vancouver’s program is in British Columbia.

United said it will also introduce a program for female players.

“The ability to foster the academic and athletic potential of young men and women at the highest levels through this unique program will provide our student-athletes with the skills to compete on and off the field,” Spencer Taintor, Calverton’s head of school, said in a written statement. “It will prepare our student athletes for advancement into higher education and to further their soccer careers.”

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In other DCU development news, the club has partnered with Evergreen FC in Leesburg, Va., to field an under-23 squad in the fourth-tier Premier Development League. Richie Burke, a longtime youth coach who was involved with United’s academy before moving to Scottish second-division Livingston, will oversee the program. Home matches will be played at Evergreen Sportsplex. The team will be called “D.C. United U-23s.”

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