Seven days from the start of the MLS season, D.C. United will undergo its final preseason test on Saturday in the finale of the Carolina Challenge Cup. With one last dress rehearsal before taking on Kansas City on March 10, head coach Ben Olsen is keenly aware of the importance of this match against Columbus.
"It's the most important game of the preseason," Olsen acknowledged after United's final training session in Charleston. "We need to put together, from start to finish, a consistent performance and we haven't done that yet."
A main priority on Saturday will be integrating Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid into United's lineup. Keys to a defense that is looking to improve upon the 52 goals surrendered in 2011, both players spent the last two weeks away with the U.S. Under-23 side. Kitchen's role - that of a holding midfielder in front of D.C.'s back line - is especially important and will have to be cemented on Saturday.
"Our back line and its organization and discipline through 90 minutes is critical," veteran forward Josh Wolff said on Friday. "That is something that we've continued to emphasize in preseason and getting Perry back to sit in front of the back four will really anchor us."
Beyond defensive improvements, Olsen sees plenty of areas for progress on Saturday.
"I'd like to get a hold of the ball a little bit more and continue scoring goals. I'd like to be better on set pieces and have less mental errors defensively," added the second-year coach. "Those are all things that will come along eventually, but I'd like to see strides in each of those areas."
United and the Crew are scheduled for a 5:00 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. The game can be seen via live stream on dcunited.com.
The club announced Friday that midfielder Conor Shanosky will join the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League on loan for the 2012 season. The United academy product has earned minutes in both of D.C.'s Carolina Challenge Cup matches thus far and was singled out by Olsen for his solid play in the last Saturday's win against Chicago.
United also released trialist-midfielder Seth C'deBaca on Friday as the club moves towards finalizing its opening day roster.