Nine hours after returning to RFK, D.C. United went back to work early Wednesday
After a grueling extra time win over Richmond in U.S. Open Cup Tuesday night, D.C. United’s players returned to Washington shortly after midnight Wednesday morning. Less than nine hours later they were back at RFK, some participating in regenerative exercises while others took part in a light training session.
A few leftovers from Open Cup plus some training nuggets:
After a grueling extra time win over Richmond in U.S. OpenCup Tuesday night, D.C. United’s players returned to Washington shortly aftermidnight Wednesday morning. Lessthan nine hours later they were back at RFK, some participating in regenerativeexercises while others took part in a light training session.
A few leftovers from Open Cup plus some training nuggets:
Tuesday’s victory against the Kickers ensured D.C.’sadvancement to the Open Cup’s ‘Sweet 16’ next week. The Black-and-Red will face archrival Philadelphia nextTuesday at the club’s second home.
“We love going to the Maryland Soccerplex,” head coach BenOlsen said Wednesday. “We getgreat support there and we are really looking forward to it. We are healthy and will be putting avery good team out there.”
With a majority of his players remaining inside RFK for‘regen’, Olsen’s practice had a very intimate feel to it. One highlight was Robbie Russell’spresence, as the right back returned to training following a brief layoff dueto a left hamstring strain. Despite missing United’s last three matches, Russell is one of only fiveplayers on the roster to have both started every game in which he has appearedand to have already registered over 1,000 minutes this season.
While the Black-and-Red’s field players enjoyed a ratherlight day, the same cannot be said for D.C.’s goalkeepers. Pat Onstad put both Joe Willis and BillHamid through a full workout before the team concluded the session with someclose-range shooting exercises. Willis, who made three saves in Tuesday’s triumph, was fresh off hisfirst game action since May 2.
“I didn’t have a lot to do,” Willis said modestly after thematch. “I thought I did alright,it was definitely pretty good for my confidence and I felt pretty good aboutit.”
The lone goal surrendered against Richmond came from thepenalty spot, and Willis was reminded of it at the tail end of Wednesday’spractice. United wrapped the briefsession with a penalty shootout that ended with Hamid and Willis squaring offagainst each other. Neither goalieproved capable of breaking the deadlock, but the exercise could prove fruitfulin the long run. D.C.’s last OpenCup meeting with Philadelphia ended in – you guessed it – penalty kicks, asUnited took the shootout 4-2 at the Maryland Soccerplex back in April 2011.
Finally, many of United’s players will be in attendance atFedExField tonight as the U.S. Men’s National Team squares off against Brazilin a highly anticipated friendly. Not all, however, will be sympathetic to the Yanks’ cause.
“Brazil for sure, what are you talking about?” BrazilianMaicon Santos exclaimed when asked for a prediction. “Three to nothing. I’m confident man!”
While United’s locker room has been free of discord so farthis season, those comments may test clubhouse unity. Midfielder Perry Kitchen sounded slightly less confident, butequally bold, in his prediction for Wednesday night.
“2-1,” Kitchen said, pausing for effect. “U.S.A.”
Chris Pontius hopes to return to action Saturday against New England
With temperatures approaching 80 degrees and few clouds in the sky, D.C. United endured one of their hottest training sessions of the year on Thursday. Here are a few notes from practice:
PONTIUS EYES RETURN
After ripping off five goals during a six-match stretch through late April and early May, Chris Pontius took a spell on the club's injury list. The victim of a strain in his gluteus medius, the club’s second-leading scorer was an unused substitute in each of United’s last two matches.
With temperatures approaching 80 degrees and few clouds inthe sky, D.C. United endured one of their hottest training sessions of the yearon Thursday. Here are a few notesfrom practice:
PONTIUS EYES RETURN
After ripping off five goals during a six-match stretchthrough late April and early May, Chris Pontius took a spell on the club's injury list. The victim of a strain in his gluteus medius, the club’ssecond-leading scorer was an unused substitute in each of United’s last twomatches.
With Pontius sidelined, D.C.’s attack remained potent asDwayne De Rosario and Hamdi Salihi combined for five goals. The Californian wasn’t happy to misstime, but says the resulting diversity in United’s attack could pay dividendsdown the road.
“We’ve done extremely well,” said Pontius. “We’ve had so many lineups and every game someone hasstepped up. It’s hard to defend usas a team and that’s obviously going to make us better throughout the season.”
Among the casualties of United’s loaded early schedule havebeen Ben Olsen’s training sessions. Of the last five weeks on the calendar, three have seen D.C. playmidweek matches. That has cut downdrastically on the amount of actual training that can occur as the Black-and-Red scrambledto prepare for games with minimal build-up.
That hasn’t been the case this week, as D.C. are finally enjoying a full week of practice. The sessions have been both intense and fast-paced, andfollowing Thursday’s training Olsen spoke about his approach.
“We’ve had a week of training, which he haven’t had in awhile,” acknowledged United’s second-year coach. “When you have a full week it’s important to - at some point - really push the guys and make sure they are getting something out of theweek. But it has been a finebalance because there’s been a lot of guys nicked up and we need to rest them aswell.”
EYE ON LIBERTADORES
Emiliano Dudar trained fully on Thursday and appears to berecovered from the hamstring strain that has kept him out since coming off injuredin D.C.’s 3-2 win over Houston on April 28. United’s defense has conceded just two goals over its lastfour matches, but could certainly benefit from the veteran Argentine’scommanding aerial presence and distribution skills out of the back.
But as Dudar was preparing to head home for the afternoon,all he wanted to talk about was Thursday’s impending Copa Libertadores clashbetween Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield and Brazilian giants Santos. Velez is Dudar’s original club, forwhom he made 63 appearances over three years between 2000 and 2003. Velez won the first leg of thequarterfinal match-up 1-0 in Argentina.
“I always read the reports from Brazil and I think theBrazilians are very confident that they will win the game,” Dudar said, tradinghis player hat for that of an analyst… or fan. “But from my point of view, Velez will play a very smartmatch and they can even win [in Brazil]. Either way, Velez will surely advance because they have a superior side.”
Nick DeLeon continues to improve and DeRo picks a few of his favorite goals
As his team continues preparations for Saturday's critical Eastern Conference showdown against New England, Ben Olsen closed practice to the media on Wednesday morning. Here are a few notes from after the session.
After a sensational start to his rookie season,Nick DeLeon has had to deal with the frustrations of missing time. A hamstring strain has essentiallyrobbed the dangerous winger of the last month, but after training on WednesdayDeLeon said his injured left leg felt 'fine' and that he was hopeful forinclusion in Saturday's gameday roster.
"When you are injured you are always goingto lose fitness," admitted D.C.'s Rookie of the Year candidate. "As much as you want to ride a bike or whatever, game fitness is adifferent kind of fitness all together. When you start to come back you just have to bust your butt to get thatextra fitness back. That's whereI'm at right now."
DeLeon's absence hasn't hit D.C. as hard asmight have been expected considering he tallied three goals and three assistsover his first nine games as a pro. But with Danny Cruz's injury, United's wing depth will be tested throughthe next months in both league and U.S. Open Cup play.
BEST OF HIS BEST
Dwayne De Rosario has scored some great goalsin his 12-year MLS career. AsD.C.'s captain sits just two tallies shy of reaching the 100-goal career mark,he took some time to name a few of his favorite strikes after Wednesday'straining. In no particular order he chose:
This free kick against the L.A. Galaxy:
This volley against D.C. United. (Sorry):
And one goal we couldn't find video of. A strike which came an MLS-record 11seconds into a 2003 match against the Dallas Burn.
To what does DeRo credit his flair for thespectacular?
"I was in the right place at the righttime," chuckled the reigning MVP of Major League Soccer. "I closed my eyes every time I hitit."
Monday's training saw some hopeful signs for those on D.C.'s injury list
With injuries mounting after a challenging three-match road trip, Ben Olsen gave most of his starters the day off from full training on Monday in anticipation of another stretch where United will play twice in four days. Emiliano Dudar, Marcelo Saragosa and Nick DeLeon all worked off to the side and Olsen said evaluations will be made tomorrow on the trio of potential returnees.
While acknowledging his team's health concerns, Olsen ruled out one intriguing possibility for bolstering D.C.'s roster.
With injuries mounting after a challengingthree-match road trip, Ben Olsen gave most of his starters the day off fromfull training on Monday in anticipation of another stretch where United willplay twice in four days. EmilianoDudar, Marcelo Saragosa and Nick DeLeon all worked off to the side and Olsensaid evaluations will be made tomorrow on the trio of potential returnees.
While acknowledging his team's health concerns,Olsen ruled out one intriguing possibility for bolstering D.C.'s roster.
When someone jokingly asked if he could sign himself to the team. D.C.'s second yearcoach admitted, "I would love to. I've been trying to talk uppermanagement into that for two and a half years now."
A more realistic option would be to call backConor Shanosky, who has played in both midfield and central defense while onloan with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL. The loan was a full year deal, but if needed, Olsen saidShanosky could be recalled.
"If it got out of hand to the point wherewe needed bodies," Olsen said of a potential mid-season move for theformer United Academy product. "But I'm trying not to, because Conor is in a good rhythm overthere and he's really getting invaluable experience that is crucial for hisdevelopment."
With Perry Kitchen's injury against Houston, aShanosky call-up might become a necessity should the central midfield spotsuffer any more injuries in the coming weeks. After training Monday, there was no update as to theseverity of the damage to Kitchen's right knee while the club awaited theresults of an MRI.
Also of note, Dejan Jakovic continued his full participation intraining as the Canadian international recovers from an ankle sprain. Jakovic said he was "not a hundredpercent fit" but that his injured left foot "feels a lotbetter."
Wednesday's contest against Colorado will be the first of a welcome three-game homestand for the Black-and-Red. Toronto FC will visit RFK on Saturday followed by New England a week later. Kickoff against the Rapids is schedule for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on Comcast SportsNet.
The Black-and-Red endured some trying travel during recent road trip
After a week long trip that took them from D.C. to San Jose to Toronto and back to Washington, United's players were clearly glad to be back at home on Tuesday. Here are a few notes from the Black-and-Red's first home training session since April.
A single glance at D.C. United's starting backfour against Toronto is all the proof needed of just how hard the Black-and-Redhave been hit by injuries this season. With only one of four central back options available, Head Coach BenOlsen was forced to play three of his defenders out of position in the 2-0 winover TFC.
There was some good news on that front atTuesday's practice as Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White and Emiliano Dudar allparticipated to varying degrees. After taking part in the team warm-up, Jakovic did some conditioning -including sprints - and ball work off to the side. Dudar participated in the warm-up but rested for much of theremainder of the session. White,who underwent knee surgery on March 13, practiced fully.
"It's early," Olsen said when askedabout the possible return of either Jakovic or Dudar. "They went through a little bit today, let's see howthey respond. We'll just keep buildingthem up. We don't know at thispoint."
Robbie Russell, who was held out Saturday for aday of rest after accumulating more minutes than any other United player so farthis season, also practiced.
If United's players looked a little disheveledduring the opening half in Toronto, it's because they probably were. After playing San Jose late onWednesday night, Thursday turned into a nightmarish travel day for theBlack-and-Red.
Following an early wake-up call, the team busdeparted for the airport shortly after 8:00 a.m. Once at San Francisco International Airport, D.C. learnedthat their departure time had been delayed an hour. From there, things only got worse as United's flight toToronto hit severe turbulence moments before landing.
"[There were] a lot of sweaty palms,"Chris Pontius said with a laugh on Tuesday. "A lot of sweat going on. It wasn't fun, but at least we got there safely."
Though they'd landed, the Black-and-Red werefar from home free.
The thunderstorms responsible for the turbulence prevented crews atToronto's airport from reaching United's plane immediately upon arrival. As a result, the Black-and-Red spentanother two hours waiting on the tarmac and didn't arrive at their Torontohotel until well after 11 p.m.
An update on D.C.'s loanees plus a look at Daniel Woolard's recent offensive explosion
After seeing his defensive unit give up five goals in D.C.'s mid-week defeat at San Jose, Daniel Woolard wasn't very keen on discussing his individual offensive exploits late Wednesday night.
"We weren't very good defensively tonight and that hurt us," Woolard answered matter-of-factly via telephone from the visitors’ locker room at Buck Shaw Stadium.
After seeing his defensive unit give up fivegoals in D.C.'s mid-week defeat at San Jose, Daniel Woolard wasn't very keen ondiscussing his individual offensive exploits late Wednesday night.
"We weren't very good defensively tonightand that hurt us," Woolard answered matter-of-factly via telephone fromthe visitors’ locker room at Buck Shaw Stadium.
While it may be hard to disagree with Woolard'sassessment, it's also worth noting the 28-year-old's impact on an attack thathas now scored ten goals in the club's last three matches. When he earned a spot in United'sstarting eleven last year, most assumed Woolard's lockdown defending would comeat the expense of any offensive contributions from the left back spot. But just days after notching two assistsagainst Houston, Woolard scored his first goal of 2012 on a beautiful divingheader in the 64th minute.
"With all the guys that we have, any extraman getting forward is going to help score goals," noted Woolard of hisincreased offensive output. "We have so many guys that teams have to key on, it gives otherplayers an opportunity to get open more and I think that is what has happenedwith me."
Before D.C. United even took the field at BuckShaw, one member of the Black-and-Red had already put in his day's work. On loan with the Ft. LauderdaleStrikers of the NASL, Conor Shanosky played the full ninety minutes in a 3-3draw with the Carolina Railhawks earlier Wednesday night.
"To be able to play in competitive matchesis something that I've been missing a lot," said the 20-year-old UnitedAcademy product that has yet to make a first-team appearance for theBlack-and-Red. "It's hugereally and it has been good for my development. You can't really replicate a first team match with stuff onthe line and the overall competition."
In addition to earning meaningful minutes,Shanosky is displaying noteworthy versatility during his loan spell. While serving mostly as a centralmidfield, the Potomac Falls High School product was dropped into the center ofdefense when a red card forced Strikers' coach Daryl Shore to shuffle his backline. So far this season, Shanoskyhas played all but 23 minutes for a Ft. Lauderdale side that sits behind onlyPuerto Rico in the NASL standings.
Another United loanee is making quite thereturn to the club where he spent most of 2011. Andrew Dykstra, now on his second loan spell of the season with the Charleston Battery, picked up USL PRO Goalkeeper of the Week honors forhis four-save performance in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
"As a goalkeeper, just getting game timeis important for our development and understanding of what we see and how weread the game," said Dykstra of his stint in the third division. "The games are really kind of thething that I'm taking advantage of by being here."
After signing with D.C. this preseason, Dykstra credited his time 2011 Charleston stint with giving him theconfidence necessary to earn a second chance in MLS. The 26-year-old goalkeeper, who is set to return to Unitedon May 20, has recorded a pair of shutouts and a 2-1 record since joining theBattery earlier this year.
Houston coach Dominic Kinnear already has an eye on the Eastern Conference table
D.C. United held a closed training session Friday morning as the club made final preparations for Saturday's match against the Houston Dynamo. A few notes from around RFK:
NEVER TOO EARLY
While it's easy to brush off a late April match as 'just another game', D.C. United fans should be cautious about underestimating the importance of Saturday's encounter with Houston.
Most might think it too early to start talking standings and - gasp - playoffs, but Saturday's opponents are already in that frame of mind.
D.C. United held a closed training session Friday morning as the club made final preparations for Saturday's match against the Houston Dynamo. A few notes from around RFK:
NEVER TOO EARLY
While it's easy to brush off a late April matchas 'just another game', D.C. United fans should be cautious aboutunderestimating the importance of Saturday's encounter with Houston.
Most might think it too early to start talkingstandings and - gasp - playoffs, but Saturday's opponents are already in thatframe of mind.
"They are all important," saidHouston coach Domnic Kinnear early this week. "It is the sixth game of the season but they have alittle bit of a lead on us in the standings."
Kinnear's early focus on the Eastern Conferencetable is far from premature. OnMay 15 of last year, the Black-and-Red sat sixth in the Eastern Conference,just one spot ahead of where the club finished the 2011 regular season. United are presently in second placeheading into the weekend, a marked improvement as D.C.approaches the one-quarter mark of its schedule.
How do you improve upon a hat trick?
That's the question facing Chris Pontius afterhis brilliant performance against New York last Sunday. The midfielder-turned-forward spentmuch of practice this week doing some 'on the job' training for his newposition.
"I still have a lot to learn," the24-year-old admitted on Thursday. "The runs are different, and you basically play with your back togoal a lot of times. I have to bestronger on the ball and just learn to play off whoever is up there."
Pontius' hat trick pushed him into a four-waytie for fourth place on the MLS scoring charts. Of the league's top scorers, the Californian is one of themost efficient, scoring his four goals on just eleven shots.
BACK IN THE MIX
Holding midfielder Marcelo Saragosa rejoined the club on Wednesday after returning to Brazil following his father's sudden passing two weeks ago. On Friday, D.C. head coach Ben Olsenwouldn't say whether Saragosa would be available for selection on Saturday, butseemed optimistic.
"He looks fine," United's taskmasterreplied when asked about Saragosa's fitness.
The Brazilian's return is a welcome boost for a United centralmidfield that needs some depth. Since returning from Olympic qualifying duty - where he played three matchesin five days - Perry Kitchen has been on the field for every minute of D.C.'slast five contests.
D.C. captain Dwayne De Rosario shares hometown with Caps' hero Ward
Dwayne De Rosario and Joel Ward
When Capitals' Right Wing Joel Ward scored nearly three minutes into overtime to seal Washington's Game 7 win over Boston, most of D.C. exploded in celebration. United captain Dwayne De Rosario - who attended two of the three first-round playoff games at Verizon Center - was no different.
"I was yelling," DeRo said of his reaction to Ward's game-winning effort. "I was sitting there watching the game and I was like - Joel scored - [There might have been] a couple profanities in there."
Introduced by a mutual friend, Ward and De Rosario have actually known each other for years. The pair hail from the working-class Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Ontario and both have Caribbean roots. Ward's parents are originally from Barbados, while De Rosario is the son of Guyanese immigrants to Canada.
"To have a fellow Torontonian doing big things for D.C. is good," said the reigning Volkswagen MLS MVP. "I'm happy for him."
As a youngster, De Rosario was a big fan of the dominant Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980's. While he admits to still being a supporter of his struggling hometown Maple Leafs, DeRo quickly adopted the Caps after moving to Washington last summer.
Apparently, United's captain knows a thing or two about hockey as he correctly picked both the outcome and exact score of Game 7 earlier in the week. For proof, check out Tuesday's practice notes.
Before being traded to D.C., Danny Cruz spent his first three MLS seasons in Houston
Just over 48 hours from Saturday's Armed Forces and Veterans Appreciation Day showdown with the Houston Dynamo, D.C. United underwent a brief training session Thursday morning. Here are a few notes from the training grounds outside RFK.
FINDING THE ELEVEN
Much has been written of late about thedifficult decisions Ben Olsen has had to make in light of thebetter-than-expected play D.C. is getting out of players who started the 2012season on the bench. Nick DeLeon,Danny Cruz, Maicon Santos, Emiliano Dudar and Joe Willis have all earnedstarting spots despite being reserves less than two months ago against KansasCity. With so many choices Olsenhas shown an early willingness to mix up his line-up, but that may soon change.
"I hope we can get a consistent team outthere that has a very good rhythm," United's coach said this week. "But if we go down a guy or two or[have] suspensions or something like that we are covered."
Whatever issues might arise from having morecapable players than the minutes to satisfy them all are outweighed by thelessons Olsen learned in 2011.
"We've been caught with having 12 or 13[options]," he added. "Then you get a couple of injuries and now you are down the rosterand you are relying on guys that probably shouldn't be out there."
» Create and share your starting XI for Saturday vs Houston Dynamo.
CRUZ ON HOUSTON
All week Danny Cruz has faced questions aboutpreparing to face his former team, and the emotional winger has acknowledgedthe need to keep his feelings in check when kickoff comes Saturday night.
While Cruz has said he has no ill-will towardshis former club, the 22-year-old isn't denying the extra motivation he's foundin looking to prove that Houston's decision to trade him away was the wrongchoice.
"I was a big piece of that puzzle,"Cruz noted. "But, I was alwaysswept under the rug - I felt like - and it's hard when you don't feel like you aregetting a little bit of respect."
Cruz isn't exaggerating his role with theDynamo. After he was re-insertedinto the starting lineup following a 1-1 draw with Chicago on October 1 of last year, Houstonwon five straight matches before falling 1-0 to Los Angeles in MLSCup.
With a valuable three points locked away thanks to Sunday's dominant performance, D.C. United returned to training on Tuesday. Here are a few notes from the late morning session.
While D.C. United trained early Tuesday morning, the Olympic soccer draw took place a half-world away at Wembley Stadium. The Black-and-Red's lone representative in London will be Andy Najar, who has said previously that he thinks his Honduran side could medal.
Los Catrachos will be paired with Spain, Japan and Morocco in Group D. Spain won the Under-21 European Championship last year and Najar already has his heart set on proving himself against some of the best young talent in the world.
"Spain is a team that has players who have proven themselves from a very young age," Najar said Tuesday in a Spanish Language interview. "It's going to be a great experience for us to play against them. That game will give us all great ambition to prove ourselves in Europe. We will show what we can do and leave it all on the field."
Spain and Honduras will meet on July 29 in Newcastle.
NEAL JOINS ROTATION
With full-fledged battles for playing time occurring all over the field, United supporters may have been surprised to see the unheralded Lewis Neal brought on as a sub in each of the Black-and-Red's two most recent matches. After training on Tuesday, Neal discussed the competitive atmosphere in which the Englishman has stood out enough to earn back-to-back appearances.
"The staff are watching us closely in training and the standards of training have been very high these last few weeks," said Neal, who replaced Chris Pontius in the 88th minute against New York. "Everybody is fighting for a place and nobody wants to lose their [spot]. For those of us who don't have [a starting spot] we are working our socks off to try and get one. It's making for an all-around good team spirit and everyone wanting to do their best to try and keep their [spot]."
As United prepares for its Saturday evening showdown with Eastern Conference foe Houston, D.C.'s players are keeping a close eye on the Washington Capitals playoff run. Defender Perry Kitchen caught the hockey bug while joining Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz at the Verizon Center for Game 3 of the Boston - Washington series.
"This is new," admitted Kitchen of his fascination with hockey. "I mean I've watched it a little bit before, but it's really growing on me."
One United player who has become a regular at the Verizon Center is midfielder/forward Chris Pontius. During his four years in Washington, Pontius - who like Kitchen did not grow up a hockey fan - has quickly transformed into an ardent Caps' supporter.
"I would say that it's very similar in the way that it's played," noted Pontius, comparing hockey to soccer. "The free flowing play [is similar], but hockey is a little bit faster."
"I think the Caps are going to beat them. I think 2-1," added Dwayne De Rosario - a lifelong hockey fan - when asked for a Game 7 prediction. "I don't know what it is, but I think the Caps play better away from home."