United players, staff head into important offseason

After frustrating year, proud franchise looks to regroup

WASHINGTON - Almost three months after their final regular-season match, D.C. United’s squad ran through their last training session of 2010 in mild, windy conditions at the RFK Stadium auxiliary fields on Wednesday morning.

Players will complete their individual exit meetings with the technical staff on Thursday and Friday, then disperse until late January. For most, the offseason cannot come quickly enough.

“The guys are happy,” goalkeeper Troy Perkins said. “It’s been tough to come every day with a good mindset and push through it, especially the last couple of days – the weather’s been bad and the field is terrible.”

After a season like United’s, some of the exit meetings may not be all that enjoyable, either, though they represent an important tool in processing each player’s progress over the course of the year.

“We go over strengths, weaknesses, things to work on in the offseason,” DC technical director Chad Ashton said on Wednesday. “Normal stuff, just kind of an evalution of the year. And it’s good to get their feedback too: what they thought of themselves, of the team, the coaching as well – everything. So it’s kind of a two-way process.”

With the expansion draft looming just a week away, United’s brain trust is still firming up their 11-man list of protected players. But while the Columbus Crew drew headlines with this week’s decisions to part ways with several high-profile veterans, Ashton believes it’s a bit too early for DC to make final decisions on who will be cut loose from the current roster, which is a youthful group by comparison.

“You don’t really make decisions on letting guys go, just because you never know where you’re going to stand a month-and-a-half from now,” he said. “Maybe you pick up a certain position or you need a certain position. The landscape of your team is constantly changing, so to actually tell guys you’re done with them would, to me, be a mistake. Later on, [if] you decide you want them back, you’ve soured the player.”

With MLS SuperDraft on the club’s radar, the coaching staff has been scouting college matches this fall and will also observe some of this winter’s US youth national team training camps. Ashton, general manager Dave Kasper and interim head coach Ben Olsen will all be embarking on international talent-finding trips as well.

“We’ve already made a trip to Colombia,” Ashton said. “We have a scheduled trip to Brazil, we have a scheduled trip to Argentina. That’s all that’s officially on the calendar right now, but I’m sure there will be a couple more as well.”