Barely a week ago, D.C. United’s Dejan Jakovic spoke cautiously about his recovery from a broken clavicle, explaining that the bone was still in the final stages of the healing process and pointing to MLS’ impending World Cup hiatus as the ideal opportunity to achieve full fitness before the season’s draining midsummer stretch.
But then the 24-year-old center back turned up against Real Salt Lake on Saturday – not merely on the 18-man game day roster, but in the first XI, at the heart of the D.C. defense. So what gives?
Even Jakovic seems to have been surprised to see his name written alongside the rest of the starters on the whiteboard in the United locker room last Friday.
“I wasn’t too sure. They kept asking me every day how I was feeling,” admitted the Canadian international, referring to head coach Curt Onalfo and the rest of the D.C. staff. “I was feeling good and I went to get another x-ray and it was pretty good. Curt was just like, ‘All right, I’m going to go with you,’ and I got the nod.”
After the 0-0 draw with RSL, Onalfo said that Jakovic had “been real adamant about being ready to play,” but the decision was certainly a gamble on some levels. It also appears to have been a necessary one, given the head injury sustained by veteran Carey Talley in a collision with reserve Barry Rice during a training last week, leaving Talley with recurring post-concussion-like symptoms.
Jakovic prospered in a potentially dicey situation, however, lasting 90 minutes and playing a major role in United’s first clean sheet of the year.
“I feel pretty fit. I’ve been training for three weeks now and I’ve been doing a lot of running. That wasn’t the concern. It was more of what my x-ray was going to show, and it looks pretty good,” he said.
The results from Thursday’s X-ray of his shoulder area apparently provided the United training staff with just enough confidence to turn him loose.
“It’s good enough. They said it’s not fully healed, but it’s pretty much healed and that was it,” said Jakovic. “I would probably have to get another really big blow in the same spot for anything to happen.”
United need him more than ever given the further carnage that played out on Saturday night. His central partner, Juan Manuel Pena, limped off with what has been revealed to be a groin strain. And on Monday, left back Rodney Wallace was hit with bad news regarding the first-half kick he took from RSL striker Alvaro Saborio. What was originally thought to be a bone bruise on his left leg is actually a broken fibula, meaning that Wallace will be sidelined for at least six weeks.
That leaves Jakovic and Julius James as the likely center back pairing for Thursday night’s match in Seattle, with Devon McTavish expected to play right back as Jordan Graye switches to the left side.
It’s a real blow for Onalfo, who had made it a priority to give his back four as much game time together as possible in recent weeks and was beginning to see the rewards only for another injury bug to strike.
Veterans Marc Burch and Bryan Namoff remain sidelined with long-term injuries, though Burch may be ready to ramp up his training regimen during the World Cup break with an eye towards returning to match action next month.
Jakovic, for his part, remains bullish.
“I think the team morale is good. All the guys are together and it’s starting to show in the games,” he said. “We definitely should’ve won [against RSL]; we had a lot of chances to finish them off. But the goals will come. The main key was defensively —can we defend as a team? And as you can see, it’s really hard to break us down now.”