East notes: Snow wreaks havoc on United
Like many metropolitan Washington residents, D.C. United team administrator Francisco Tobar kept a watchful eye on the local weather reports to monitor yet another impending snowstorm slated to wallop the District of Columbia in the middle of last week.As he watched the storm develop and considered the potential ramifications for United's scheduled departure to Bradenton, Fla. on Wednesday afternoon, Tobar knew he had to alter the imminent travel plans in order for the club to reach its training camp destination on time and avoid a possible delay until the weekend.Tobar spent his Monday trying to cobble together a flight itinerary to transport United to Florida on Tuesday, a task made considerably more difficult with United's travel party of approximately 40 and the logistical concerns surrounding the departure and the arrival. By 10:30 p.m. on Monday night, Tobar arranged three separate flights and believed the crisis had passed.Mother Nature disrupted Tobar's carefully laid plans by Tuesday morning. Only one of the three flights -- a 12:30 p.m. departure containing more than half of the group -- managed to escape from Reagan National Airport."That made for a little bit of a planes, trains and automobiles kind of day," United coach Curt Onalfo said.After throwing Monday's plans out the window, Tobar assessed the situation presented to him by the circumstances. The sole flight departure ensured 21 United players and staffers started on their journey to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, though a delay on the ground in Washington resulted in a tardy departure. With a few players scheduled to join the team in Florida from other destinations and the equipment already on its way after United sent a van ahead on Monday night, Tobar needed to figure out how to transfer the remaining players and staffers down to Florida."The first thing that hit me was a little bit of laughter," Tobar said. "We had worked so hard on Monday to make this happen and it looked like it was going to happen with no problems, and then here we are on Tuesday morning facing a number of different challenges."Tobar consulted with a local transportation partner to line up a 15-passenger vehicle to provide the solution: a second United van bound for Bradenton (estimated driving time: 16-17 hours). Fortunately for Tobar and the remaining travel party members, AirTran, United's airline partner for the trip, offered to fly the team from Atlanta to Bradenton on Wednesday morning if the smaller party could make its way to Georgia.United's caravan switched its destination accordingly and embarked on the journey. Tobar had divided the group up primarily along seniority lines earlier on Tuesday morning ("I really wanted to get Ben Olsen in the van, but I thought I would hear about it for the 10-hour drive, so I decided not to," Tobar joked.) and used the lengthy drive to help coordinate the Florida arrival with United's staff members already in Bradenton. Although AirTran's offer to fly the group from Atlanta sliced 6-7 hours off the trip, the airline's flexibility didn't alter the fact that a group of United players and staffers faced a 10-hour drive.A lengthy van journey isn't the ideal method of travel, but United midfielder Brandon Barklage -- one of the unlucky few crammed into the van - said the group just muddled right on through."I was actually in the very back and I had about ten bags lined up to the left of me," Barklage said. "I didn't have very much leg room, but I worked through it and we finally got here. It wasn't that big of deal, as long as we got here safely."While the smaller United travel party meandered down the East Coast toward Atlanta, the larger group on the sole flight out of D.C. encountered further travel difficulties once it reached Hartsfield International Airport. The D.C. delay resulted in a missed connection, forcing the already-divided group to split into three separate groups to fly to Bradenton on Tuesday afternoon and evening. The last of the groups finally reached Florida around midnight.The remainder of the United delegation landed in Bradenton on Wednesday morning after spending the night in an Atlanta-area hotel. United caught their first break on the trip -- the smaller group came off the standby list to pile onto a flight early Wednesday morning -- and the group convened for the first time later in the day to shake loose all of those travel kinks.After watching United take the field for the first time, Tobar said he felt satisfied that all of the consternation and the stress yielded results."It was a good test for us," Tobar said. "It certainly wasn't the best of situations. We were left with few options at that point (on Tuesday morning), but everyone was able to lend a hand. That was great to see. Ultimately, the goal was to get everyone here. Once we got everyone here, we were very, very happy."Onalfo said the extended travel time and the inclement conditions cost United a couple of training sessions, but noted he was pleased to see how the club and its players proactively coped with the situation and overcame the hurdles presented by the persistently snowy weather to start its 2-1/2-week Florida excursion."My attitude with all of this stuff -- and it's nice to see that it's filtered quickly into the group -- is that everything that's thrown into our path, we have to deal with in a positive manner," Onalfo said. "At the end of the day, we lost a couple of days of work, but we're down here for a good stretch where we can get a lot accomplished and work towards our goals for the season."Barklage continues road to recovery: In addition to his recent turn as a cramped traveler, Brandon Barklage has spent the past few months working his way back to fitness after tearing his right ACL in United's 2-1 U.S. Open Cup win against USL-2 Harrisburg on July 7.The 23-year-old midfielder spent his offseason in his hometown of St. Louis preparing for his return to the field. Barklage trained with Saint Louis University and worked out with D.C. teammate and fellow Billikens alum John DiRaimondo and a local trainer to recover his fitness and strengthen his knee. After rehabilitating his injury with the trainer and scrimmaging intensely with his alma mater for the last two or three weeks prior to his departure, Barklage said he felt ready to return for training camp."The knee actually feels a little bit better than I expected it would," Barklage said. "I'm dealing with a couple of little injuries (left groin and toe) on the side, but the knee is definitely in the back of my mind right now." Barklage, a developmental player in 2009, will have to impress quickly in order to ensure he retains a roster spot. If he performs well enough, the second-year central midfielder -- who appeared in four MLS matches in his rookie season -- could rise up the depth chart with Danny Szetela out until late March after recent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee."My first goal is just to make this roster, then I can contribute from there," Barklage said. "I'm not really worried about what's going on with the roster so long as I get on it and find my way to full strength."Onalfo possesses depth and breadth with his choices in midfield, but the first-year United coach said he likes the promise and the work ethic he has seen from Barklage during his time with the team."He's got a fighting spirit," Onalfo said. "In my experiences with guys like him, they always find a way to get into your team. With all of that said, he's coming off of a major knee surgery and it's going to take some time for his body to adjust to it and for him to find the level he was playing at prior to getting hurt."Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com and serves as a contributing editor for Goal.com USA. Kyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.