The Pathway

Ted Ku-DiPietro levels up at DC United | The Pathway

Timing has always been an important part of Ted Ku-DiPietro’s story.

The Virginia native joined the D.C. United Academy in 2018 after being a high school standout his sophomore year, earning first-team all-state honors. But when he reflects on his journey, the midfielder feels he got a late start on the path towards becoming a professional.

“My dad tells me all the time, ‘You probably should have left [the club level] earlier,’ and I agree with that. I think I would have been better at this point in my career,” Ku-DiPietro told

“It was right and everything aligned. I played two years of high school. Should I have done that? No. But was it worth it? Yeah. I wouldn't change it or do anything differently.”

As Ku-DiPietros’s development unfolded, he always carried a chip on his shoulder. He joined developmental side Loudoun United in 2019 and signed his first professional deal with the team in 2020.

Despite some early struggles, that evolution provided a vital learning moment.

“I didn't really hit the ground running and I was still trying to find the right time and place to transition,” Ku-DiPietro recalled. “And during the COVID era, I kind of had a mindset shift and more of like, I really need to take it seriously and be all in, otherwise I'm going to be on the streets.”

Ku-DiPietro worked with a trainer, Paul Torres, to grow physically and mentally. That’s when he really started making strides and enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2021 where he finished with seven goals and three assists, making a name for himself as a chance-creating midfielder.

The following year, Ku-DiPietro signed a homegrown contract with D.C. United, playing for the team he grew up rooting for and watching live. He became an integral part of the Black-and-Red’s attack in 2023, scoring five goals and being named to the 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR list.

“I used to go to the games and fanboy, but now it’s my job to provide enjoyment for these people,” said Ku-DiPietro. “D.C. United is my local team and my club, so just going out there and showing everybody in the area that the DMV has a lot of talent and that anybody can come up and do their thing.”

A memorable first

February 25, 2023 is a day he’ll never forget.

D.C. United were trailing Toronto FC, 2-1. Federico Bernardeschi had just converted a penalty in the 66th minute when Ku-DiPietro entered the match as a sub. The home side was desperately searching for the equalizer and Ku-DiPietro came up with the assist for Christian Benteke on a nice combination play in the 90th minute. Just rallying in that fashion might have been good enough, but the then-21-year-old had more in store and played hero when he buried the winner deep into second-half stoppage time.

What was behind those late heroics? A little bit of anger.

“First of all, I really wanted to start the game,” he reminisced. “I was pretty pissed off to not start the game and I think rightfully so, and that drove my emotions just to go out there and change the game, and I think that's what I do best.”

With Audi Field in a frenzy, that moment was a culmination of the work Ku-DiPietro put in during the offseason when he trained overseas with English Championship side Swansea City. After a strong preseason, he felt he had something to prove and did so in a rewarding way.

“It was a great team play. Unbelievable,” Ku-DiPietro said of his 98th-minute goal. “I’ve watched it a crazy amount of times, obviously – great first touch and then back of the net.”

Always learning

One of the rare opportunities of Ku-DiPietro’s career has been playing for Wayne Rooney, who coached at D.C. United from the summer of 2022 through 2023. The team struggled to get results, but Rooney showed confidence in Ku-DiPietro and some of the other younger players. And when you have someone so accomplished in the sport teaching you, insights follow.

“Wayne always talked about attackers getting into certain spots, and obviously he was a world-class striker and taught us a lot,” said the midfielder. “One thing he always used to say was just pass it in the net, you don’t have to smash it. I had that instance a couple of times last year where I did just that.

“He would say things that would sound so obvious, but you would never think about that and then you do it and it makes so much sense. Like one time we were in training and we were just doing runs into the box and he told me, ‘Just run straight at the near post, beat your guy and then you'll score.’ Literally the next play in training like I just sprinted, beat my guy and tapped it in the near post.”

With Rooney in charge, Ku-DiPietro didn't find that consistency as a starter. Now under new head coach Troy Lesesne, he’s a mainstay in D.C.'s starting XI and continuing to expand.

“Troy pushes me every single day to be more of a leader, be a great player, develop all kinds of points in my game,” explained the midfielder. “Every day, he's always challenging me whether I miss one shot or one pass.

“He's always telling me to look for different things and he wants me to be myself. I love that and that gives me all the confidence in the world. For me, personally, he's the best coach I've had.”

Sticking to the plan

Ku-DiPietro considers himself lucky to have grown up in a family that’s heavily involved in the game. His parents played at some point. His siblings, and older brother Michael, paved the way.

“There was never a Plan B and I never thought about anything else. I never wanted to do anything else,” he admitted. “In hindsight, that's not very smart. But it worked out for me. I'm very happy.”

Now, Ku-DiPietro plays alongside one of the best strikers in MLS. Benteke has not only served as a role model, but also as someone to help hold him accountable. Then there is Kevin Paredes and Griffin Yow, two other D.C. United homegrowns who are now abroad. He, of course, hopes to follow their blueprint and one day make the jump to Europe.

For now, Ku-DiPietro strives to give the people in the DMV something to cheer about when they watch the Black-and-Red – the same way he used to as a fan years ago.

“I think I've matured in my game more and more,” Ku-DiPietro said. “Just getting better at shooting, dribbling, decision making. That's something that comes with age, reps and practice. I just try to create as much chaos as possible.”