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Intensity level rising in D.C. training camp

WASHINGTON -- D.C. United's first training session of 2010 began in a somewhat tentative fashion on Monday morning, no surprise given the abundance of new faces, icy temperatures and the long leadup (54 days) to the team's season opener in Kansas City next month.Yet the tone changed noticeably as muscles warmed and small-sided games became more lively. With more than a half-dozen of those in attendance working to prove themselves worthy of a contract offer, it did not take much for everyone's competitive instincts to reawaken after the 3-month layoff since the end of the 2009 campaign. By the end of the 2-hour-plus practice, players were cracking shots and snapping into tackles with an intensity that seemed incongruous to early February."It's always like that the first couple days, with the new guys wanting to make a good first impression and the older guys not wanting to let them show them up," said midfielder and reigning team MVP Clyde Simms afterwards. "But it's good. I think everyone so far has gotten along as teammates and it's a good competitive training session."While trialists and unsigned players have obvious motivation to give their utmost even at this early stage, the arrival of new head coach Curt Onalfo has raised the stakes for veterans as well. There's also a collective edginess that is a natural consequence of a two-year playoff drought."It's a very motivated group. I think the guys that have been in with us for a couple years now have something to prove, and the new guys are looking to make a statement right now with the coaching staff, and try and get on the roster," said assistant coach Ben Olsen on Wednesday."It always accentuates it when a new coach comes in. If a coach is a holdover, some guys that know the coach pretty well, and the coach knows them, they can afford to maybe step off the gas a little bit. But right now it's a clean slate and Curt has come in with no real preconceived notions of these players. So it's up to them to prove to him that they want to be a part of this thing."A year ago, Chris Pontius was a wide-eyed rookie carrying little more than high hopes as he traveled west from California to start his professional career in D.C. But the attacker enters this preseason in a drastically different situation. Fresh off a stint in the U.S. national team's January camp that was his just reward for an outstanding debut season for United, Pontius is expected to play a leading role along the Black-and-Red front line and he is eager to apply the lessons of the past 12 months in the weeks ahead."I remember last year it was a hundred miles an hour and it was no different today," he said on Monday. "I think it'll be like that until some peoples' bodies start slowing down in preseason, which is going to happen. Your body's going to get tired and that's what preseason is about, getting fit."United enjoyed another spirited session on the artificial turf field adjacent to RFK Stadium on Tuesday before another blanket of snow prompted Wednesday's gym workouts. Onalfo and company are still waiting on the likes of Canadian international Dejan Jakovic and new signing Danny Allsopp to arrive at camp before relocating to the warmer climes of Bradenton, Fla. to ramp up their preparations next week.D.C. is still mulling a number of locales, including sites in Mexico and Arizona, for the middle section of their preseason before wrapping up with the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, S.C. in mid-March. But with a fresh start on everyone's minds, most of the United locker room is ready to shake off their winter rust and move forward without further delay."I'm excited about the feel we have and the energy we have in this locker room right now, with the new coaching staff and so many new faces," said Simms. "I like the way things are feeling."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.