D.C. face quick turnaround against Quakes

Progress in the US Open Cup has offered D.C. United a welcome dose of success amidst a difficult league campaign this year. But the squad had to move on quickly from Wednesday night’s USOC round-of-16 victory over the Richmond Kickers, training early the next morning before jetting off to the West Coast in advance of Saturday’s meeting with the San Jose Earthquakes.

And the first of back-to-back road matches should reveal plenty about United’s midsummer prospects.

Pointing to a 6-1-1 overall record in their last eight contests, D.C. remain optimistic about hauling themselves up the Eastern Conference standings over the second half of the season. But to do so, they’ll have to consistently earn points on the road, where they’ve gone 1-4 thus far in 2010.

The upcoming visits to San Jose and New York could help the Black-and-Red take the next step forward in their recovery – or expose their confidence as misplaced.

D.C. lost 2-0 at Columbus last weekend, though coaches and players alike took their share of positives from the performance.

“We feel very good about ourselves,” head coach Curt Onalfo said of the Columbus match. “We just played a game in which we played extremely well and things didn’t go our way, from the refereeing to just not putting the ball in the back of the net. But we’re just staying the course, knowing we’ve got to continue to plug away, get points and get ourselves up the standings.”

That will require continued improvement in attack, and to that end, United reinforced their front line on Thursday. The club officially signed Pablo Hernandez after the Argentinean striker spent the past few weeks training with the club.

Roster space for the move was cleared by the unceremonious release of Christian Castillo, the Salvadoran winger who joined the club with such fanfare over the winter, and United will soon have to decide whether to do the same with Luciano Emilio, whose short-term contract comes up for evaluation later this month.

The Brazilian veteran’s hopes for a new deal took a significant hit on Wednesday, however. Emilio earned a start against Richmond but was knocked out cold by a bruising second-half collision with goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale. He left the game with a sore neck and a headache that could be a sign of a concussion, though club officials have yet to announce a formal prognosis.

United’s personnel situation is similarly mixed on the defensive front. Marc Burch has encountered some setbacks in his recovery from a long-term foot injury, with pain limiting his ability to train, though the hamstring tweak suffered by center back Julius James in the Crew match has proved minor and he may be ready to face the Earthquakes this weekend.