Matteo Schlitz is invited to DC United U-14 Pre-Academy
Matteo Schlitz and ATP Director Sona Walla
Matteo Schlitz is one of the many outstanding young individuals who have come through the Advanced Training Program (ATP). From the age of four when he started in the DC Stoddert’ recreational program, Matteo’s soccer career has rigorously followed the Stoddert path until this past fall when his strong performances with the Advanced Training Program (ATP) squad in matches versus the DC United Academy caught the eye of the professional club’s coaches. He was promptly offered a Developmental Player spot on the DC United U-14 Pre-Academy mid–year with the expectation that his talent will command a full-roster spot this summer.
For Matteo, selection for the Academy is a proud achievement of one of his goals and an important milestone on his journey as a young, developing soccer player. Born and raised in Washington DC by parents David and Stefania who is Italian, Matteo is a quiet force. DC Stoddert ATP Director Sona Walla caught up with a young man who is on the move to find out how he is adjusting to the demands of his new soccer environment at the DC United Academy.
*Matteo, how are you?
* I can imagine.
Yes, since my selection for the Academy, I train three times a week with DC United and once with my Stoddert travel team. I also play my travel matches on the weekend.
* Why the DC United Academy and how did that unfold?
Well, DC United is the local professional club so it is natural that I have always admired them. Also, once I was selected at U-11 for the Advanced Training Program at Stoddert, I always looked up to the older ATP players who had pushed themselves to continue to develop and impressed the Academy coaches to be invited to join the prestigious DC United Academy.
Once I got to the U13/14 ATP squad and started interacting with the Academy teams, I took it very seriously and always tried to be fully engaged during the matches. I was very excited when I found out I had been invited for some training sessions this past winter with the DC United Academy for the coaches to take a closer look. I impressed and here I am.
* What do you like most about the Academy environment and what are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make?
Let’s see, there is a lot. What struck me right away at D.C. United Academy is the professionalism of the environment and the amazing dedication of the players. They are all talented but work so hard. On the field I immediately noticed the faster speed of play. At ATP the coaches always stressed the importance of the quality of your “first touch” and boy did that come true. At academy level, if you do not think about where you want to go with the ball before you receive it and use your first touch to take you in that direction you will immediately be under pressure. It is something to which I needed to adjust quickly and thank goodness I came with the technical background to do it. Also, you must be able to play with both feet, all the training sessions are designed that way.
* You started recreational soccer at DC Stoddert at four years old, were selected for the travel program at U-9, were identified for the Advanced Training Program at U-11 and now you have been invited to the DC United Academy. How have you managed to continue to find success at each level?
I love soccer and I am very dedicated to the game. I train all the time and always try to learn and improve. I watch a lot of soccer on TV, some say too much. Interestingly, very early on I always liked playing defense. I think this is a bit unusual with young players and got me noticed by coaches. Yeah, I think it was my toughness in defense and my ability to communicate that drew the attention. I can tell you (smiles) that it was certainly not my height and speed.
* What did you learn from your DC Stoddert experience and how has it helped you?
Technique, technique, technique! I am very thankful to all my DC Stoddert approach and the coaches who always stressed – “Better technique, do not boot the ball up field, play out of the back.” This was a big plus for me when I arrived at academy level. You know, at DC United if you have good technique and understand the game they will look at you. As a defender you must be able to play out of the back. If you lack those qualities they are just not interested, no matter your size.
* How did you gravitate towards defense?
Well first of all I am part Italian and I think it is within me. Second there is Fabio Cannavaro who captained the Italian national team and won the World Cup in 2006. He is my idol.
* What qualities doe a good defender need?
To be a good central defender you must be able to communicate and organize your defense. You must be able to read the game and anticipate. Once in possession you must be able to play out of the back.
* I understand you are a strong student, talk about balancing studies and the demands of soccer?
Easy (smiles). My parents told me very early “no grades, no soccer.” I was certainly going to play soccer. Also, you have to know your priorities and mine are school and soccer. That means I cannot go to all the parties and hang out with my friends as much as I would like to but that’s cool.
* Who are the people or role models that have influenced you?
My parents have always supported me. They have given me the opportunity to succeed but never handed it to me. I respect them because they never tell me I am doing well when I’m not.
* What are your other interests?
Wow, don’t have too much time left between school and soccer. Roma (Italian club team) is my passion. I spend an unhealthy amount of time reading all and everything that deals with Roma.
* Your favorite food?
* What are you listening to these days in your IPod?
Rap, even though my parents don’t like it. I listen before and after games, it helps me reflect on my mistakes.
* Which country in the world you would like to visit?
I have been lucky enough to visit Kenya quite regularly and the country has had a big influence on me. It taught me that soccer is a culture and a game that brings happiness to so many people. Also, the Kenyan people have taught me to see life differently than here in the States. Kenyans do not worry about all the extra things we do. I have learned from them to be simpler and to just enjoy life.
* The European Nations Cup takes place this summer, what teams are you supporting and what are your thoughts as to the favorites?
Italy is obviously who I am supporting but I doubt it will be our year. Aside from Champions Spain, Germany and Holland have the best young players and the strongest squads.
* Who is your favorite American soccer player?
Brandon McDonald, DC United’s pro team center back. I see a lot of myself in him and have learned so much from watching him up close. I was lucky enough to get his jersey.
* Your favorite non-American soccer player?
Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti of Roma
* What is your biggest strength?
I am a bit of a leader, I will listen to others but always form my own opinion.
* The trait or characteristic you need to work on the most?
On the soccer field I need to work on the mental part of my game, learn to relax and forget about my mistakes so I can play better. Off the field I must learn to stop boring everyone about my beloved Roma.
* Any words of wisdom you would like to pass on to younger players?
Know what you want from the game, get your priorities straight and never let anyone discourage you.