United prepare for Fire with shorthanded back line

The latest chapter in D.C. United’s recent history of head injuries has complicated preparations for the club’s home opener against the Chicago Fire, as Greg Janicki and Devon McTavish remain questionable for Saturday’s night match in the wake of their grisly clash of heads during last weekend’s 2-2 draw in Los Angeles.Both McTavish and Janicki rose to contest a second-half header against Galaxy striker Jovan Kirovski and came away with bloody gashes that required seven staples and eight stitches, respectively. Janicki’s forehead seems to have borne the brunt of the trauma, as he experienced headaches and dizziness in recent days and has been diagnosed with a minor concussion, though both players have had their participation in team workouts – including basic activities like running – significantly curtailed this week.“I’ve just been taking it easy this week. I feel better every day, I’ve just been trying to sleep it off,” said Janicki on Thursday. “But concussions are weird. You don’t want to come back too early, because you can be out a month – come back and get hit in the head again, or break open my stitches or something. So I’m not quite sure at this point what’s going to happen.”Former United winger Josh Gros saw his promising career cut short in 2007 by complications from a string of concussions, while striker Alecko Eskandarian, now with Chivas USA, missed nearly a year of action with the Black-and-Red in 2005 due to lingering effects from a similar injury. Last season Dominic Mediate’s season took a troubling turn after sustaining a concussion in a June match as the D.C. midfielder – who was unable to win a senior roster spot in the club’s just-concluded preseason – experienced headaches and nausea that sidelined him for the rest of the campaign.With awareness and applicable medical technology growing alongside the pace and intensity of the modern game, head trauma now constitutes a very real occupational hazard for pro players. So in spite of their excitement ahead of Saturday’s home opener, United’s latest victims are taking no chances.“No running yet. I’m just kind of laying low,” said McTavish. “I’ve never had a head injury before, so I’m following the protocol. Whatever [the training staff] tell me to do, I’m doing.”But McTavish couldn’t resist the opportunity to crack wise on another topic when asked about his team’s precedent of head injuries. “I don’t know what the deal is, whether we’re cursed here or something,” he said. “Maybe if we get a new stadium, it’ll help that situation. It’s been unlucky.”Janicki believes he suffered a case of post-concussion syndrome after an undiagnosed injury during his college career at Michigan State, and was also bloodied by a knock to the head in a match against Houston last October. He called his latest injury “kind of scary” and said he spoke with Mediate about his experiences this week.“I played and I’m sure we hit heads plenty of times. Back then I don’t think it was that much of a worry, and it probably should’ve been,” said D.C. head coach Tom Soehn of his own playing career. “I think we need to treat head injuries – the safety of the player comes first, especially in the course of a game, and I think the referees need to have a good awareness. It’s up to them now to stop the game and make sure all the precautions are taken.”If neither Janicki nor McTavish is available to Soehn this weekend, it will likely pile further pressure on newcomer Dejan Jakovic, the Canadian youth international who would be the next choice to step into the central role in the 3-5-2 formation United used against L.A. On Thursday Soehn expressed faith in the 23-year-old defender, but also held out the possibility of a change back to a 4-4-2 shape against United’s conference rivals from the Windy City.“In a lot of ways, it clogs the middle, simplifies role in the back,” he said, “but we’re not married to a 3-5-2 either. We’re going to keep adjusting and making sure that we can adjust throughout the course of a game and the course of a season. And obviously you always have to evaluate your personnel and what fits your personnel the best.”