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03 April 2:53 pm

Veteran forward Maicon Santos gives United much-needed strength up top

Watching Maicon Santos celebrate his first goal of the season early in Friday's 4-1 win over FC Dallas, it was clear that the veteran forward was playing with a sizable chip on his shoulder.  

For starters, Dallas happened to be Santos' last employer.  After trading for the Brazilian mid-way through last season, Schellas Hyndman and company chose not to pick up his option for 2012. On top of that, Santos' season was off to a frustrating start as just one of his nine shots on goal had made its way on target.

WatchingMaicon Santos celebrate his first goal of the season early in Friday's 4-1 winover FC Dallas, it was clear that the veteran forward was playing with asizable chip on his shoulder.  

Forstarters, Dallas happened to be Santos' last employer.  After trading for the Brazilianmid-way through last season, Schellas Hyndman and company chose not to pick uphis option for 2012. On top of that, Santos' season was off to afrustrating start as just one of his nine shots on goal had made its way ontarget.

Sowhen his 28th-minute blast easily bested ex-teammate Kevin Hartman,one can understand the intensity with which Santos celebrated.

"Ithink he was a little bit extra revved up because it was Dallas," Olsensaid afterwards.  "Playinga former team gets you a little more focused and more motivated."

"Iwas very inspired," Santos admitted.  "There is always more inspirationagainst your former team.  Itgives you a little bit more energy.  Itwas [a good night]."

Whilehis two goals and one assist were certainly welcome Friday night,it's not necessarily what is needed from Santos on a weekly basis.  With his bullish strength, the 28-year-old's most important characteristic is the ability to play with his back togoal. When midfielders and defender serve the ball forward, Santos hasquickly become D.C.'s best bet to keep possession. 

"Hebrings a different element to our team, one which we needed," said DwayneDe Rosario, who provided the assist on Santos' second tally Friday night.  "He's a guy that can bephysical.  He can take hitsfrom behind and hold the ball up and get guys into the play.  We really saw the best of that onFriday."

DeRosario can take extra satisfaction in the Brazilian's success knowing that hehelped bring Santos to Washington.  Thetwo played together while in Toronto, and the reigning MVP had no qualms inrecommending Santos to Olsen and his staff this offseason.

"Benasked me how he was in the locker room and I told him he's a good guy," added United's captain.  "He has a lotto offer.  Why not have aguy like that on your team if you have an opportunity to get a player of hiscaliber."

01 April 5:38 pm

A few leftovers from Friday evening's 4-1 win over FC Dallas

After a night where there were plenty of good storylines, here are a few leftovers from Friday evening's 4-1 win over FC Dallas.

BACK IN THE KITCHEN

Before kickoff against Dallas, United midfielder Perry Kitchen adequately described his role in a pre-match interview with Kyle Martino of the NBC Sports Network.

"I'm pumped to do the dirty work for him," Kitchen said when asked about playing behind Dwayne De Rosario.  "Hopefully he can work his magic."

Kitchen's willingness to do the dirty work has quickly endeared him to Head Coach Ben Olsen.  After playing three matches in five days with the Olympic team, Kitchen ninety minutes against Dallas and earned some serious praise from his coach.

"Not an easy week," Olsen said of his holding midfielder.  "He was shot from ten minutes in.  We asked a lot of him today and he gutted it out.  I'm really proud of him."

ANOTHER OLYMPIC HOPEFUL

While De Rosario turned in his most complete performance on Friday, D.C.'s captain wasn't going to stick around Washington long enough to enjoy it.  After the match, DeRo said he planned to travel to Toronto on Saturday where he'd watch Canada's U-23's in their Olympic qualifying showdown against Mexico.

The Canadians ended up losing 3-1 Saturday night in Kansas City, narrowly missing out on a chance at the Olympics.  Had they qualified, De Rosario may have also been headed to London.

"Of course I would be honored for a call-up," De Rosario had said earlier this week.  "It's any players dream to take part in world events like the Olympics and World Cup.  That would be a great day for Canadian soccer."

MAN OF THE MATCH 

Despite scoring four goals against Dallas, United were no less indebted to their goalkeeper than usual on Friday night.  Ben Olsen called Joe Willis his man of the match in the post-game press conference, and with good reason.   

The second-year goalie made a pair of impressive stops through the first ten minutes on Friday night, two big plays that kept D.C. from finding themselves in a catastrophic hole.

"If we go down early it changes the whole game," defender Daniel Woolard said afterwards.  "They can play more defensive and not have to stretch themselves out.  It was big.  He's made big saves in every game he's played in."

Four minutes in, a miscommunication between Emiliano Dudar and Kitchen gifted Ricardo Villar a point-blank opportunity in front of Willis.  The University of Denver product jumped off his line and pushed Villar's near-post attempt out for a corner.  Blas Perez then split D.C.'s central backs six minutes later, but Willis was there again using every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame to deny the Panamanian striker.

28 March 12:49 pm

Perry Kitchen returned to practice Wednesday after Monday's heartbreaking Olympic qualifying defeat

Operating on a short week ahead of Friday night's showdown with Dallas, D.C. United underwent a brief practice Wednesday morning. Here are a few notes from the light session, which ended in just over an hour.

OLYMPIC HEARTBREAK

Less than 48 hours after seeing his Olympic dreams dashed in the final moments of the United States' 3-3 draw with El Salvador on Monday night, United midfielder Perry Kitchen was back at practice with the Black-and-Red. By now accustomed to the back-and-forth nature of Olympic duty, Kitchen went right back to his familiar role, leading D.C. through a warm-up before doing some light ball work on the side as his teammates took part in small-sided games.

After practice, Kitchen opened up about Monday evening's heartbreak. The 20-year-old midfielder called the Olympics a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity adding that the failure to advance to London was 'tough to swallow'.

Despite playing three games in five days - and suffering a massive emotional letdown - Kitchen responded authoritatively when asked if he'd be ready if called upon Friday night against Dallas.

"Yea, of course. Honestly I think it's a positive to kind of find a rebound," noted United's second-year midfielder. "[To] get my mind off of it and get back with this team. This is now my main goal and focus so I think it will be positive."

HAMID HOBBLED

D.C. United's second American Olympic entry, goalkeeper Bill Hamid, went off injured in the first half of Monday's match. Head Coach Ben Olsen confirmed that the young goalie would undergo further tests late Wednesday on his left ankle, adding that the preliminary reports on Hamid's health ranged from a sprain to a bone bruise.

"If the scans say he's ready to go and he shows up tomorrow we'll have a decision to make," Olsen told reporters after practice. "I think Joe [Willis] has been fine and we trust Joe if we have to use him."

Olsen's faith in his back-up is understandable. Willis has earned a shutout in two of his five career starts, with both blank sheets coming against Vancouver.

FINAL FOUR FEVER

Just like offices across America, D.C. United's locker room is wrapped up in March Madness. With only three games left before the brackets are officially complete, a pair of wingers are poised to take the title of top hoops prognosticator.

Rookie Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius enter the Final Four tied for first place. Both midfielders have Kansas winning it all, but DeLeon picked Louisville - his alma mater - to make the national title game alongside the Jayhawks while Pontius chose Kentucky as his other finalist.

"I'll be screaming at the TV for sure," laughed DeLeon, who sports a Louisville tattoo on his right arm.

At the other end of the spectrum is midfielder Danny Cruz. In charge of organizing the friendly locker room competition, Cruz was in last place entering the Sweet 16.

22 March 12:51 pm

Lance Rozeboom injured his knee in practice and will fly to D.C. for further evaluation

Some notes from the road as United prepares for the third match of its season on Saturday night.   

ROZEBOOM INJURED

After an impressive preseason run which earned him his first professional contract earlier this month, rookie midfielder Lance Rozeboom injured his left knee during practice this week.  Though United’s medical staff has not made a final diagnosis, Rozeboom will not be available for Saturday's match in Vancouver. 

Some notes from the road as United prepares for the third match of its season on Saturday night.   

ROZEBOOM INJURED

After an impressivepreseason run which earned him his first professional contract earlier thismonth, rookie midfielder Lance Rozeboom injured his left knee during practice this week.  Though United’s medicalstaff has not made a final diagnosis, Rozeboom will not be available forSaturday's match in Vancouver. 

The injury comes at themost disappointing juncture for Rozeboom, who was fresh off his first selectionto United's matchday side.  While he did not enter Sunday's contest against the Galaxy, the rookie out of NewMexico was available for selection after being left out of the top eighteen forthe season opener. 

Rozeboom will return toD.C. late Thursday afternoon for further evaluations.

OLYMPIC QUALIFYING

For a pair of D.C. Unitedstarters, the long road to London begins Thursday night when the U.S. U-23squad takes on Cuba for the first of three Olympic qualifying group phasematches.  Both Bill Hamid and PerryKitchen are expected to contribute heavily - and will likely start - againstthe underdog Cuban side.

"We are definitelyfeeling very good," Kitchen said from Nashville earlier this week.  "We are taking this one game at atime.  We know each match will betough and we are not looking past Cuba. [The three matches] do come quick though, so win, lose or tie we have tochange our focus.  We have to keepplugging through and get good results."

Midfielder Andy Najarwill also represent United at the qualifying tournament when he suits up forHonduras as they open group play on Friday against Panama.  Thursday's U.S. match will be televisedlive on Universal Sports Network and streamed live on concacaf.com.  Kickoff is slated for 9:00 p.m. from LPField.

A SPECIAL THANK YOU

Northern Virginia residentMichael Quin was one of seven Marines who passed away earlier this week whentwo helicopters collided during a training exercise in Yuma, Arizona.  Quin, who captained the soccer teamwhile attending Purcellville's Loudoun Valley High School, was a faithful D.C. United fan andhis family is asking that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the SemperFi Fund or United's charitable arm, United for D.C.  

United's players, coachesand staff thank Michael for his service and sacrifice while keeping the entireQuin family in our thoughts and prayers.

15 March 5:05 pm

United have plenty to work on during difficult road-trip to west coast

On Thursday, United held their final training session in Washington before departing on an ten-day road trip.  With matches against Los Angeles and Vancouver looming, we take a look at three keys that will help the Black-and-Red maximize points on their long journey from RFK.

SET PIECE DEFENDING

Four days before United's season opener, D.C. Head Coach Ben Olsen closed the final half-hour of practice to work on set-pieces.  So when Sporting Kansas City found their last-minute winner via a corner kick, it was disappointing on multiple levels.  Up until C.J. Sapong's breakthrough, the Black-and-Red had done well man-marking Kansas City's considerable aerial threats on free kicks.

Whether it is an on-going issue or a one-off mistake, United must sort out their set piece deficiencies on this road trip.  There is no better service on dead balls than that of David Beckham and - unless he gets the full 90 off on Sunday - D.C. can expect to have their hands full.  

Against Sporting, United didn't help themselves with some careless tackling in their defensive half.  The at times unnecessary fouls led to free kick chances, a luxury D.C. will be wise to deny both L.A. and Vancouver.

FINDING WIDTH

With the spine of the team still gelling, it makes sense that United will perhaps rely more on its wings now than at any other point in the season.  Fortunately for D.C., in Chris Pontius and Andy Najar the Black-and-Red have two players who can more than shoulder that load.

That being said, Najar and Pontius need to be used more.  In the opener, Pontius had tons of space on the left flank but rarely got the ball in a position to be dangerous.  Najar was a bit more involved early, but of the Honduran's 17 completed passes against Sporting just five were in United's attacking third.

IMPROVED PASSING

While Sporting applied plenty of pressure Saturday, D.C. committed an uncomfortable amount of passing errors.  Simply put, United did not have a good evening in distribution.

"There pressure was good but it wasn't pressure that you cant play through," Ben Olsen acknowledged during an appearance on The Capital Soccer Show.  "Our passing wasn't good all night long.  We had times where if we were just better in possession - A to B, ten and twenty yard passes - then we get a little rhythm and make them defend.  Overall our passing just wasn't sharp."

Unfortunately, the numbers support Olsen's take.  D.C. completed just 64% of its passes against Sporting, the lowest completion percentage across MLS on First Kick weekend.  Kansas City also owned the ball Saturday night, taking 57% of possession against the Black-and-Red.      

14 March 3:17 pm

Andy Najar speaks about his call-up to the Honduras U-23's

As preparations gear up for Sunday's match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Head Coach Ben Olsen closed Wednesday's practice to the media.  Nevertheless, here are a few storylines from around RFK as United ramp up for the defending champions.

NAJAR CALL-UP

With yesterday's news of Andy Najar's call-up to the Honduran Under-23 side, the United midfielder was all smiles after Wednesday's training session.  Because Honduras is training in Los Angeles, Najar will play with D.C. on Sunday before joining Los Catrachos.

As for how Najar will be used by Honduras, the 18-year-old seems open to pretty much anything. 

"I'm ready for wherever the coach decides to put me," Najar said when asked about his position in a spanish-language interview on Wednesday.  "Just because you have a preferred position, doesn't mean you don't have to learn other positions as well.  Wherever I end up playing, I will give my all for the team."

Najar and his Honduran teammates are in CONCACAF's Group B, which will play at the Home Depot Center.  They'll face Panama (3/23), Mexico (3/25) and Trinidad & Tobago (3/27).  

NEAL JOINS THE MIX

Over a twelve-year career, Lewis Neal has worked tirelessly towards one goal ... playing top-flight soccer.  Until this week that goal had eluded the Englishman, but after signing with the Black-and-Red on Tuesday, the 30-year-old is ready to contribute right away.

"In my career I've played all across the midfield whether it's from the left to the right," Neal said when asked about where he might fit in to Ben Olsen's plans.  "I like to get the ball down and play, and keep the ball.  I've got a pretty trusty left foot, I like to think.  Hopefully I'll be able to show the D.C. United fans - when I get an opportunity - what I can do."

A comfortable and efficient player on the ball, Neal will be expected to provide cover in midfield as the season wears on.  The left-footed player is likely to back-up Chris Pontius, but can also play in a central role.

POP UP TOP

When United faces Los Angeles on Sunday, there's a chance that two of the most prolific scorers in all of Major League Soccer will be on display.

Hamdi Salihi brought 163 career goals with him when the Albanian striker signed with the Black-and-Red late last month, a number that is bested by only a trio of MLS players.

1 - Thierry Henry (326)
2 - Kris Boyd (208)
3 - Robbie Keane (188)

We'll have to wait until Sunday to see if Bruce Arena uses Keane, as the Galaxy forward is likely to have played in three games over a seven-day stretch.

12 March 12:44 pm

With a key road-trip on the horizon, United must quickly move past Saturday's disappointment

With the reality of Major League Soccer's 34-match schedule, getting too caught up in a single result is an exercise in both futility and foolishness.  And so, despite the disappointing nature of Saturday’s defeat, D.C. United forges ahead with plenty of opportunities left to erase the sour taste of opening night.

Still, the manner in which the Black-and-Red fell - giving up a stoppage time goal - brought back some familiar emotions for a group that saw point after point slip away late in 2011.

"It brings back memories," admitted Perry Kitchen on Saturday night.  "The only thing we can do is respond in the next game and not let that become another habit."

Though simple in principle, Kitchen's words won't be easy to carry out.  The months-long build up that accompanies opening day carries with it a certain amount of emotional baggage.  So close to delivering a blank-sheet against one of the most talented attacking teams in MLS, the Black-and-Red must overcome the psychological blow of last-minute disappointment.

"It's heartbreaking," added newcomer Robbie Russell.  "It can really kind of take the wind out of your sails and really demoralize a team.  But we've got to remember it's the first game of the season and they are a really good team."

Good may be an understatement when describing Sporting Kansas City.  Peter Vermes' front line is so loaded the young coach has the luxury of bringing U.S. National Team forward C.J. Sapong in off the bench.  Sapong dealt the fatal blow on Saturday from - of all places - a corner kick.  In light of last year's struggles, defensive set pieces have been a priority this preseason, making the manner in which Saturday's game-winner was scored as difficult to swallow as its timing. 

"It was on a corner kick.  That was the most disappointing part," Josh Wolff confirmed from United's locker room.  "[Last year] we did give up a lot of set pieces and we did give up a lot of late goals.  It's not something that we are too happy about."

If United's players need a model for how to shake off Saturday's malaise they need look no further than their coach.  During 2011 - when home results continuously eluded his team - Ben Olsen's post-game press conferences became tense affairs where the coach's facial expressions often told more than his words.  On Saturday night, a more upbeat Olsen praised his players for their work.

"The guys put on what was a hell of an effort," said United's second-year coach.  "They fought through fatigue and I thought should have earned the draw.  There are a lot of disappointed guys in that locker room."

When the team returns to training on Tuesday, that disappointment must give way to focus.  With an impending road trip that includes reigning champion Los Angeles and a much-improved Vancouver side, D.C. has little time to sulk.

09 March 3:35 pm

United's rookie class gears up ahead of their first professional match

Anyone who remembers last year's opening-night victory over Columbus can testify to the fact that there's just something special about season openers.  The optimism of a fresh start combined with a first taste of competitive action usually makes for a memorable evening.

For a pair of United youngsters in particular, Saturday's match will mark an important career milestone.  Whether or not rookies Nick DeLeon and Lance Rozeboom make their professional debuts against Sporting Kansas City, the duo are on cloud nine ahead of their first match as pros.

"I've mentally been preparing all week for it," said midfielder Nick DeLeon, United's top draft-choice this offseason.  "I'll take it all in during the pre-game.  As soon as game time comes, that's when you block it all out.  From there it's all business."

If Rozeboom enter's Saturday's game, it will be the culmination of a week full of firsts for the supplemental draft pick out of the University of New Mexico.  Signed on Wednesday, 'Boomer' - as his teammates call him - has a very specific plan for his debut.

"I'm going to be watching the guys who are playing my position, how they handle gameday and the pressure of the moment," noted the 22-year-old.  "For me, it's about finding that balance between absorbing it all and learning from those guys that will be on the field."

One player Rozeboom will keep a close eye on is holding midfielder Perry Kitchen.  The second-year pro shares a position with Rozeboom, and on Friday offered up some advice for D.C.'s rookie class.

"Have fun and enjoy it.  It's a big step in their careers," said Kitchen, who made his debut in last year's 3-1 win over the Crew.  "You are definitely - I don't want to say nervous - but you have butterflies.  With all the fans, you are psyched and pumped and ready to go, it's something they'll always remember."

D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City kick-off at 7:30 on Saturday night at RFK.  Buy Tickets.

08 March 4:22 pm

After hundreds of interviews, here are some of United's best soundbites from preseason

Over a preseason that took D.C. United through Florida, Arizona and South Carolina, there were plenty of opportunities for the Black-and-Red to give us some juicy soundbites.  To that end, here are your top five quotes from the preseason.

#5 - "I drew that up.  I told Andy to beat five guys and hit Hamdi for an open net.  Yeah, I'm a genius." - Ben Olsen

Sometimes Ben Olsen is in a good mood.  When he is, the coach can often be playfully sarcastic with the media, as he was while describing United's top-notch strike against Charleston.  Olsen is not always in a such a playful mood, as you will see later on. 

#4 - "I try to win my spot every week, it doesn't matter who is in camp with us.  It is not a spot that is going to be given to me." - Daniel Woolard

One of the questions entering this preseason was whether or not Woolard would be United's opening-night left back.  Trialists Jose Burciaga and Guilherme each auditioned at the spot, but neither ever provided the consistency that has become Woolard's trademark. 

#3 - "I'll play through pain, absolutely.  This is my job, I don't like to sit on the sideline and watch… I'll do anything I can to play." - Danny Cruz

Asked his take on playing through pain, Cruz almost scoffed at the question.  The victim of a reckless challenge against Charleston, doctors initially told the midfielder that he had broken his ankle.  About twelve hours after x-rays proved them wrong, Cruz was jogging at practice.

#2 - "It's beautiful when you score, because you are doing your job"

Said in his instantly recognizable accent, Hamdi Salihi's response to a post-match question points to the striker's singular focus.  Scoring is his job and little else matters to the man they call 'The Bomber'.

#1 - "We are a different team than last year

Sometimes Ben Olsen is not in a good mood.  When asked if anything could be discerned from last year's two Kansas City wins over United, Olsen fired back with a curt response.  The coach, however, does bring up a good point.  Of the ten field players who started the 2011 finale against Sporting, only four (De Rosario, Najar, McDonald, Woolard) are likely to open 2012 starting at the same position.

06 March 2:54 pm

D.C. United continued their final preparations for Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday

TIGHTENING SHIP

With just days left before the opener, every competitive advantage counts. To that end, United head coach Ben Olsen closed the final half-hour of Tuesday's training session as the Black-and-Red worked on set pieces.

"Last year we weren't good enough on set pieces, both for and against," Olsen said after practice. "We wanted that to be a focus this preseason and making sure that we don't give up silly goals on free kicks."

Offensively, D.C. has plenty of options on dead balls. Between Dwayne De Rosario's right foot and Branko Boskovic's left, anything within shooting range will be a serious threat. From further out, Andy Najar is a proven option to provide a well-driven service.

Earlier this preseason, Olsen admitted that defensive set pieces have been an achilles heel for D.C. In their latest contest, a 3-1 win over Charleston in the Carolina Challenge Cup, United's defense allowed multiple free headers off free kicks.

CRUZ UPDATE

What was at first thought to be a major injury has turned into little more than a speed bump for outside midfielder Danny Cruz. A victim of a brutal challenge in Wednesday's game against Charleston, Cruz has already returned to action, participating fully in Tuesday's practice.

Though he admits to some swelling left in the injured ankle, Cruz said Tuesday that he is ready for opening night against Kansas City. Ben Olsen called the midfielder "durable" and noted that Cruz's relentless style has left him accustomed to playing through pain.

"He's right, it comes with the way that I play," Cruz agreed. "I expect it every game. If you look at the amount of times that I get fouled, it's a lot compared to my minutes. I'm getting hit a lot, so I'm used to getting hit."

ROSTER MOVES

Intent on finalizing the squad ahead of MLS First Kick on March 10, D.C. United continues to adjust their roster.

Over the weekend, the Black-and-Red released trialist Jose Burciaga. The move clears space for another trialist, as the club welcomed midfielder Lewis Neal on trial from USL side Orlando City. Neal's addition leaves three players in camp without a contract. Lance Rozeboom has impressed throughout the preseason but remains unsigned. Beyond that, Ryan Richter and Neal are likely competing for the one roster spot Olsen says he has left to fill.

Prior to his arrival stateside, the Leicester, England native enjoyed a decade-long career in England's lower leagues. The 30-year-old has played for Stoke City, Preston North End, Notts County, Carlisle United and most recently Shrewsbury Town.