Adam Hassan is a step closer to his goal of playing professional soccer.
Hassan is bypassing his junior year at Steinbrenner High School to enter the D.C. United U-17 Academy, a youth and development program for the Major League Soccer (MLS) club D.C. United.
He will be among a rare group of about 20 players chosen to join the Academy, which scouts regionally and internationally for young talent exhibiting pro potential.
Hassan, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound defender, will have access to top-caliber coaching and advanced training methods, and play in arguably the most competitive league in North America, the United States Soccer Developmental Academy.
Via the Academy’s residency program, Hassan will board at The Calverton School in Huntingtown, Maryland, located about 25 miles outside Washington D.C.
For him and others, the developmental academy helps provide a more systematic route to play in college, and perhaps, reach the pro ranks.
In 2016, D.C. United sent 16 players to Division I soccer programs. Additionally, eight Academy players have gone on to professional homegrown contracts since its inception in 2005.
Months ago, Hassan sent out his resume and game film to multiple MLS academies.
The footage caught the eye of D.C. United staff, which invited him for a trial period. He performed well enough to earn a formal offer to join the topflight program.
Hassan will receive structured soccer training, at a higher frequency than high schoolers typically receive.
It means practice sessions twice a day, plus more instruction, more drills, more workouts and more competitive matches.
Simply, he’ll be placed in a pro-like soccer environment.
He doesn’t plan to shy away from the added workload. He intends to elevate his game.
“I want to improve every aspect of my game,” Hassan said. “I want to try to be the best that I can be. Of course, I have to get faster, stronger and jump higher, and I have to be able to control the ball better.”
Hassan leaves for Washington D.C. on Aug. 5, temporarily saying farewell to family and friends in Lutz.
It’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make, to follow his dream through.
“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Hassan, who started playing soccer at 3 years old.
“As a soccer player, there’s always room to learn and take in new things. You always can be building your game. “His parents, understandably, are still adjusting to the realization their teenage son is leaving home, for the Mid-Atlantic.
His mother, Melissa, said they didn’t expect to be empty-nesters so soon. “But, we’re very proud of him,” she said.
“We’re supporting him pursuing his dream,” added his father, Kelly. “He made a tough decision to leave. Those opportunities are few and far between, so you’ve got to capitalize. It will better prepare him for a chance for the pros, or if not, he’ll be college-ready.”
Hassan played varsity soccer at Steinbrenner the past two seasons.
He was the only sophomore in the team’s starting lineup last season, where he played a total of 1,350 minutes — more than any 10th-grader in school history.
He also was named the team’s Most Improved Player, morphing into a standout on a regional-qualifying team that went 18-5-2.
Simultaneously, Hassan played for the Lutz-based Tampa Rangers soccer club.
It’s where he says he developed most, since joining at age 9.
“I became a better player,” Hassan said of his Rangers experience. “The curriculum that you’re learning ends up paying off, and that’s what I’ve always liked about the club.”
Sean Coniglio, one of Hassan’s first Rangers coaches, saw the defender’s potential early on.
Coniglio, who played at the University of Tampa (1989-1990), says Hassan stood out for his tenacity and ability to attack the ball.
Hassan’s work ethic impressed, too.
“He spent a lot of time on his own, outside of training, to develop his abilities and skills,” Coniglio said. “He was one of those that I knew, at home, he was working out and doing things to get better, and it made a difference as he get older.”
“Adam’s always been an ambitious player for us, and showed the effort that he always wanted to be a better player at his position a central defender,” added Rangers club director Mike Connell. “He’s been a good student of the game, and I think those are the key demands on players that want to get to the next levels, knowing that they still have to keep learning.”
Hassan, a natural lefty, today describes himself as instinctual and mentally tough, on the field.
“I can keep my head in the game,” he said. “I can stay focused, I don’t really get shaken up a lot, and I can read passes well.”
And, those qualities are critical for reaching the highest levels, explained Connell, a 10-year veteran of the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
“Soccer, like any other sport, is about how much sport intelligence you have,” Connell said. “You can’t be one-dimensional on the field, and just run and kick and fight. I think that’s really the difference when it comes to our country versus the rest of the world — they’re spending more time with the game, therefore their (soccer) intelligence is greater.”
Connell added the prospect of Hassan playing professionally is “all available to him.”
However, Connell acknowledged it’s also about capitalizing at every opportunity.
“He needs the breaks, but he has the ambition, and he has the ability,” Connell explained. “It’s just being there at the right time to do the right thing and play at the highest possible standard, because at that level you can’t not show up.”
For Hassan, heading overseas may be one way to break into the pros.
He was born in Egypt, before his immediate family settled in Lutz when he was about a year old.
Those Egyptian roots, Connell noted, “opens up another avenue” for reaching the pros.
“USA is an opportunity, but Egypt becomes a big difference-maker,” Connell said. “A lot of Americans don’t have that opportunity, because they don’t have that family connection to the homeland. This opens up a greater opportunity for the game.”
Meantime, Hassan isn’t the only Tampa Ranger headed to a soccer academy this fall.
Julio Plata, 13, was awarded a two-year scholarship to Brooke House soccer academy in Market Harborough, England.
Founded in 2008, the program boasts more than 70 players ages 13 to 19 filling four club teams that play in the Junior Premier League and other leagues, while also competing in various cups across Europe.
Plata, a midfielder, is a Lutz resident who most recently attended Liberty Middle School.
Q&A with Adam Hassan
What drew you to the game of soccer?“When I was younger, I used to watch my dad play. He would play with his adults, and I’d always go watch him play. So, at a young age I was already watching the game.”
Why do you enjoy soccer?
“In soccer, everything’s going, and it’s just exciting. You’re working together as a team, united with other people to accomplish one goal. And then when you end up accomplishing that goal, it’s a thrilling experience.”
Which professional soccer player do you model your game after?
“I’d have to say (Paris Saint-Germain Football Club defender) Thiago Silva. He’s not the biggest guy on the field, but he commands, he’s strong, and he holds downs his defense. I’ve always liked him.”
Published August 2, 2017