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March to March 9: Tuesday training notes

Hard-knock Houston; Joe Willis returns; snow on the way

Arriving from Texas after dropping a 2-0 result to the Houston Dynamo, D.C. United returned to the training pitch at RFK Stadium to begin focusing on its match versus Real Salt Lake, its home opener opponent (Saturday, March 9; 7 p.m. ET).

The team focused on conditioning drills at the beginning of practice and then moved on to a series of small-sided games. During the last round of these mini-scrimmages, players cycled through a sequences of sprints on the sidelines to strengthen their fitness.

HARD-KNOCK HOUSTON
Coming off a 2-0 loss at the Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium – a place where no MLS team has taken away three points in 26 attempts – D.C. United started preparations for Saturday’s home opener against Real Salt Lake. Despite starting the season in a less than ideal way, the team is ready to get back on its feet in front of the Black-and-Red faithful.

“80th minute, 0-0 in Houston, we’re in decent shape,” said Perry Kitchen, reflecting on the Dynamo’s late surge last weekend. “It’s unfortunate. [The Dynamo is] a great team at home. We just got to learn from it and move on. It’s still a very long season.”

Just last year, the Black-and-Red began 2012 with a season-opening loss and ended the season in second place of the Eastern Conference. What’s more, the club reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and made it one stop short of an MLS Cup appearance.

JOE WILLIS RETURNS
Goalkeeper Joe Willis came back to training today to participate in select drills after suffering a right foot injury during the off-season. Willis mostly worked with an assistant coach and Homegrown teammate Michael Seaton as both continue to get back to full fitness.

Last year, Willis – then in his second year – made 11 appearances (10 starts) in the regular season and saved a crucial penalty kick in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, at the time keeping a 10-man United squad on even terms with the New York Red Bulls.

SNOW ON THE WAY
With the National Weather Service issuing a winter storm watch tonight for the D.C. Metropolitan area, the Black-and-Red may very well be making alternate training plans tomorrow. No stranger to snowy conditions affecting its playing schedule, the Black-and-Red just last year saw the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals re-scheduled due heavy snowfall.

“My concern is that my boys wanted to play, and I thought it was a playable field at this point,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen back in November 2012. “But it isn’t, so we gotta regroup and come back tomorrow and do it again.”

The club would return to Red Bull Arena the next day to play out the series, with Nick DeLeon scoring in the 88th minute to book the team’s appearance in the conference finals.

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