Last month D.C. United received a very special email from a family in Florida. The family, and particularly their youngest daughter Brooke, are diehard D.C. United fans, despite living almost 1000 miles from Washington DC. When they heard the news that the Black-and-Red would be playing in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, they made plans to travel to Orlando for the first match versus the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Following the match, D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen surprised Brooke with a quick visit at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The young fan told Kitchen that he shared the same number as her, and was therefore her favorite player on the team.
Thank you to Brooke and all of the D.C. United supporters who made it out to Orlando for the match!
Captain Dwayne De Rosario is ready for the eight-team pre-season tournament.
— Dwayne De Rosario (@dwaynederosario) February 7, 2013
Midfielder Marcelo Saragosa takes a selfie from the plane, with a photobomb by fellow Brazilian Raphael Augusto.
Eu e o Mlkii rphaugusto...#Florida# #Orlando# Here we go Again# #PreSeason# @ Ronald Reagan Washington… instagr.am/p/Vbm_1xvsVk/
—M.Saragosa (@MarceloSaragosa) February 7, 2013
First round SuperDraft pick and Colorado native Taylor Kemp is excited to escape to warmer climates.
Back to florida tomorrow, can't say I'm upset to hit the warm weather again #lifeisgood
— Taylor Kemp (@Tkemp02) February 7, 2013
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid made it safe and sound.
Landed in Orlando
— Bill Hamid (@BillHamid28) February 7, 2013
Defender Daniel Woolard is ready to train down south.
Back in FL for the last trip of preseason.
— Daniel Woolard (@Woolard21) February 7, 2013
Defender Ethan White spent time with family before departing again.
Dinner date my momma before I depart for preseason trip number 2 to Orlando.
— Ethan White (@EthanWhite15) February 7, 2013
Trialist Henry Kalungi is excited for his opportunity in Orlando.
Just landed in Orlando for preseason with Dc United:)
— Henry Kalungi (@HenryKalungi) February 7, 2013
United captain Dwayne De Rosario is catching both fútbol and football today.
— Dwayne De Rosario (@dwaynederosario) February 3, 2013
DeRo also wonders where all the Baltimore fans are in his feed.
— Dwayne De Rosario (@dwaynederosario) February 3, 2013
Midfielder Perry Kitchen is taking predictions.
Defender Brandon McDonald's loyalties are split.
— Brandon McDonald (@BMcDonald4) February 3, 2013
Defender Ethan White hopes to make it back to D.C. in time.
A lot to do today before the Super Bowl and heading back to DC tonight. Starting off with brunch.
— Ethan White (@EthanWhite15) February 3, 2013
With the news that Homegrown Player Andy Najar has been transferred to R.S.C. Anderlecht, D.C. United players tweeted their well-wishes.
United captain Dwayne De Rosario:
— Dwayne De Rosario (@dwaynederosario) January 30, 2013
2012 MLS Best XI selection Chris Pontius:
As much as is sucks to lose Andy, I'm genuinely happy for the kid. Great player, unreal potential, awesome person. Good luck Andy
— Chris Pontius (@ChrisPontius13) January 30, 2013
Fellow United Homegrown products Bill Hamid...:
Big ups to Najar.. Couldn't be more happier for him. Well deserved. Go show the world what u can do playa!!! Congrats kid
— Bill Hamid (@BillHamid28) January 30, 2013
...and Ethan White:
— Ethan White (@EthanWhite15) January 30, 2013
Midfielder Perry Kitchen:
Good luck to Andy! What a great opportunity. He is going to kill it!
— Perry Kitchen (@PerryKitchen23) January 30, 2013
Defender Brandon McDonald:
Our team is really goin 2 miss @andy_najar !!! Truly happy for him & his family w this opportunity 2 fulfill his dreams! Hes goin 2 kill it!
— Brandon McDonald (@BMcDonald4) January 30, 2013
Defender Dejan Jakovic:
Big move for @andy_najar wish you all the best in Belgium with Anderlecht
— Dejan Jakovic (@DejanJakovic) January 30, 2013
And fellow former MLSer and Anderlecht teammate Sacha Kljestan:
Happy that we signed Andy Najar from DC United. Nice to have another former MLS player here at RSCA.
— Sacha Kljestan (@SachaKljestan) January 30, 2013
The full D.C. United preseason roster was released on Friday. Below, we introduce the seven trialists on the list.
A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, 26-year-old Altman currently plays for the Minnesota Stars FC. The defender was originally drafted by the New England Revolution in the second round of the 2008 MLS SuperDraft, but joined the Minnesota Thunder after being waived by the club. Since joining the Minnesota Stars in 2010, Altman took on the role of team captain and earned more minutes in the past two seasons than any other player on the team.
Neven Markovic is 25-year-old Serbian soccer player, who most recently played for MLS' Sporting Kansas City. Markovic was a member of the 2012 Sporting roster who won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The left back previously played for a couple of teams in the Serbian SuperLiga, including FC Rad Belgrade from 2005 to 2008.
A graduate of Old Dominion University, Joseph Nane was originally drafted by Toronto FC in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. At the end of the 2010 campaign, the Cameroonian native was traded to the Colorado where he spent two seasons playing for the Rapids. The midfielder appeared in nine games in 2012, notching one goal in 446 minutes.
Demitrius Omphroy is an American-born soccer player from Alameda, California. With his Filipino roots, the versatile 23-year-old has one cap with the Philippines National Team. After four years at the University of California, Berkley, Omphroy was drafted by Toronto FC in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
Although he was born in Venezuela and lived in Colombia until he was 13, Restrepo is an American who has seen time with both the U-17 and U-20 US National Teams. The goalkeeper won the starting role with the University of Virginia Cavaliers in 2009, leading the team to a National Championship. While at the UVA, Restrepo broke several of US Soccer Star Tony Meola's records including games played (25), minutes played (2348), shutouts (16), consecutive shutouts (11) and consecutive scoreless minutes (1176).
Ryan Richter is a 23-year-old midfielder out of Pennsylvania. He currently plays for the Charleston Battery in the USL. A graduate of LaSalle University, Richter was drafted by the Philadelphia Union in the 2011 MLS Supplemental Draft. After his contract was not picked up in 2012, Richter joined D.C. United for preseason and finally landed with the Battery for the 2012 season.
Like Kyle Altman, Matt VanOekel currently plays with the Minnesota Stars. VanOekel originally played for the Minnesota Thunder of the USL before the team folded, he was then picked up by their successors, the NASL Minnesota Stars where he soon became the starting goal keeper.
How was your holiday break?
Joe Willis: It’s been pretty awesome. Back in St. Louis for pretty much all of it, hanging out with my family, so it was a pretty good break.
Do you have a lot of friends who are still back in St. Louis?
JW: Yeah, a lot high school friends I hadn’t seen in a while, so it was good times.
So, when are you leaving for England?
JW: I’m leaving tonight – my flight is at 6:15 p.m.
Are you all packed and ready to go?
JW: Ha! Nope. I am not packed at all, haven’t even started packing. Yeah…I know. It’s going to be a pretty busy day – have to take care of a bunch of stuff before I head over there, but it should be alright.
How did this opportunity to train with Sunderland materialize?
JW: A little while ago, [D.C. United goalkeeping coach] Pat [Onstad] came up to me and told me that there might be an opportunity for me to train with an English team over the break and he asked me if I wanted to do it, and I told him, ‘Absolutely.’ Anytime you have an opportunity to train with a Premier League team, you’re not really going to pass it up.
How long are you over there?
JW: I’ll be over there until – so I fly over there tonight [January 8] and I’ll be flying back on January 16.
Have you ever been to England or any other part of Europe?
JW: I have been. I went to England, actually I trained with three different teams for three weeks right before I got drafted by DC. So basically, this time two years I was over there. That’s the only time I’ve been over there.
Which teams were you training with two years ago?
JW: I spent a week with Tottenham Hotspur, I spent a week with Fulham and then I spent a week in Wales with Cardiff City.
So, you’ve had experience being over there. How would you say living and playing in the U.K. is different from the U.S., if at all?
JW: It’s fun, I like it. It’s pretty similar, to be honest, as far as the way they go about their daily business. It’s a little more high-profile, I guess, but it’s pretty similar.
What are you hoping to accomplish with this training stint?
JW: My goals are really to enjoy myself and take it as a learning experience, try to learn as much as I can from the coaches I have over there. It’s always fun to get a fresh perspective from different coaches.
With Andy [Najar] being over there in Belgium, are there any plans for you guys to meet up and grab a Belgian waffle over there or some fish and chips in England?
JW: Ha, I don’t think so. I haven’t talked to Andy. I’m sure he’s pretty busy, and I’ll be pretty busy over there, so I don’t think I’ll be meeting up with him.
Having played 11 games last season, what goals have you set for yourself for this year?
JW: Really, I’m just always trying to get better. Whatever happens, happens – whether I play or Bill [Hamid] plays or Andrew [Dykstra] plays or whoever, I’m really just trying, always trying, to get better. So, whatever happens will happen and the only thing I can control is making yourself better.
What is the biggest difference you have seen in your game now versus your rookie season in 2011?
JW: Definitely, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with all of it. I’ve gotten to know the guys and everyone in the D.C. United organization and you know, having two years experience now definitely feels a lot more comfortable. I’ve definitely gotten a lot better as a player with the coaching staff at D.C. United and I’m less nervous and more excited now.
What areas specifically in your goalkeeping have you seen improvement in?
JW: I would say that my positioning has gotten a lot better. That was one of Pat’s [Onstad] strong points as a player, so that’s something he’s been able to pass on to myself and the other goalies. Reading the game and communicating – it can still be better for me, but it’s definitely gotten better since I joined.
How proud were you of one of your DC training partners, Bill [Hamid], getting called up again to the U.S. Men’s National Team?
JW: Oh yeah, it’s great. Bil’’s a good goalie and he deserves it, so it’s exciting to see him get called into the National Team. It’s tough having him on the same team when it’s a position where only one guy can play, but it’s also good having strong competition in your spot because it makes me better and helps motivate me to be better.
Now I think the most important question that our fans want to know – how’s the beard coming along?
JW: Ha, the beard is coming along. It’s not quite where I want it yet, but it’s definitely getting there. It hasn’t really been touched since I started growing it [in November], so it’s getting a little wild, a little out of control.
So, you’re pretty much committed to a year of this?
JW: Yeah, I’m committed to a year, but we’ll see. I’m going to play it by ear and see how it goes. I still got, like, seven or eight months left to grow it, so in a few months once it starts getting a little longer, we’ll see. Right now the plan is for the next seven or eight months to keep it growing.
In a recent post on MLSsoccer.com, editors chose D.C. United as a team primed for a deeper playoff run in 2013, saying that with the return of a healthy Dwayne De Rosario, United could be a, "real title contender."
Perhaps just as compelling as a healthy De Rosario is the wealth of young talent in the Black-and-Red core. With an average age of 25, United is among the most youthful squads in MLS. But in this case, youth does not equal inexperience. United's roster boasts the 2012 MLS All Star MVP, 2012 MLS Best XI selection and 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year Runner-Up Chris Pontius (25) and three other Rookie of the Year finalists in just as many seasons: Nick DeLeon (22), emerging center midfield star Perry Kitchen (20), and 2012 Olympian and homegrown standout Andy Najar (19), the 2010 Rookie of the Year. Additionally, starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid (22) - the first D.C. United Acadmey product to sign directly with the first team – led all MLS netminders in saves percentage (78.6%) and registered the third-best GAA (1.03) in 2012.
With its captain back to full form and a young roster, who turned more than a few heads in 2012, United is indeed set to contend for the Cup in 2013.
From around the globe, D.C. United players reflect on 2012 and look forward to 2013.
Happy NY. Thanks to all of you who have supported & may 2013 be filled with health & strength...
— Dwayne De Rosario (@dwaynederosario) January 1, 2013
Haappy New Year to Everyone!! Let's try n make the world a better place, starting w ourselves!! #Peace&Love
— Brandon McDonald (@BMcDonald4) January 1, 2013
Happy 2013!!! God Bless Everyone...Feliz 2013!! Deus abençoe a todos ... Grande bjao@ Balneario Camboriu instagr.am/p/T6x6fQvsWy/
—M.Saragosa (@MarceloSaragosa) December 31, 2012
— Chris Pontius (@ChrisPontius13) December 31, 2012
Despite his teammates not naming him the "Best at FIFA" in this year's superlatives, Bill Hamid is one of D.C. United's FIFA enthusiasts. Recently he sat down with ESPN to talk about his playing style and how being a professional soccer player has helped him become better at the video game.
"You know at certain points when to cross when you see runners going. You know when to bring the keeper out when there’s a breakaway. Being a pro soccer player, you figure those things out easier," explained Hamid. Read the full article on ESPN now.
Yesterday, MLS and adidas unveiled the new official match ball for 2013. The adidas PRIME features a few updates from it's 2012 version, including a slightly new look and upgraded technology.
The updates make the PRIME more water resistant and increasingly more aerodynamic with a cutting-edge panel bonding technique. The ball features a matte finish with slight texture to help with ball control, while changes to the bladder help prevent air and shape loss across all weather conditions.
The PRIME keeps it's traditional MLS colors of green, blue and white, while it also still features the signature of League Commissioner Don Garber. The design change is in the shapes, which were changed to emulate the handles of the Philip F. Anschutz trophy.
D.C. United faces Houston on March 2, 2013 marking their first match with the new ball.