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Troubled United missed Burch's veteran influence

Defender's broken foot robbed him of season, DC of some "bite"

WASHINGTON -- Amid the various post-mortem perspectives on the club’s troubled 2010 season offered by members of the D.C. United technical staff, one name was repeatedly mentioned as a surprisingly influential absentee.

Marc Burch was not even penciled in to start at his preferred left back position when United began preseason training, but the broken foot that sidelined the 26-year-old defender shortly thereafter proved to be a bigger setback than anyone at the club expected.

That injury robbed a transitional back line of its longest-serving veteran for most of the year, a player whose organization, intensity and “bite,” as coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper put it, would surely have proved useful during the harsh campaign that unfolded.

The sesmoid bone – a tiny but pivotal element in running, jumping and kicking – in his right foot also subjected Burch to months of pain and aggravation, which continue to this day.

He thought he’d recovered on schedule when he returned to match action in August, only to re-aggravate the injury after just four games – and Burch’s own description of his second surgery makes for grisly listening.

“It feels good to have that bone out of my foot,” he explained earlier this month. “[The surgeon] redid it with bone marrow and bone graft, so it was put together kind of like glue with bone marrow. There was no pin – the bone is so small it’s had to put a pin in – but it didn’t heal properly because blood wasn’t getting to the bone.

“It got it back together, but didn’t give it the strength,” Burch added. “So it grew as pretty much artificial, weak, like a piece of chalk.”

Burch had been troubled by lingering soreness throughout his recovery and required pain-killing shots to play, but there was no overcoming the multiple bone breaks that occurred during DC’s overtime loss to Columbus in a US Open Cup semifinal on Sept. 1. His second surgery required a longer healing process, and he’s only recently been able to wear normal shoes and participate in weight-lifting, with a resumption of jogging planned for late December.

His slow return to health has given him ample time to think about his lost season.

“I think this year we missed a good leader in the back,” said Burch, “and it’s unfortunate that Carey [Talley] had some injuries and Juan [Manuel Peña] had a serious injury, because those guys are really here to be the glue because they’re older and more experienced guys.

“But I wish I’d been out there to really bring the guys in and shore it up defensively with a little bit of leading. But we just had a tough year all around,” continued Burch. “We weren’t scoring, we were getting scored on, we weren’t keeping possession – I don’t think we were tough enough.”

Burch is scheduled to regain full speed during the early stages of 2011 preseason, though with the Expansion Draft taking place next week, he admits that he can’t be sure which team’s colors he’ll be wearing at that point. Regardless of his destination, he’s eager to make up for lost time as he enters the prime years of his career.

“I think I have the ability and the time to be able to really make an impact on whatever team I am on,” he said. “Hopefully it’s D.C. United, but I think I have enough time to where I can make a good impact on the league still.

“And if it’s more distributing and less runs forward, or if it’s more fitness, or if it’s [becoming] tougher, stronger, smarter, there’s always time to grow and be better and to help out the team.”