D.C. United gathered for its first outdoor practice session of training camp Wednesday morning at blustery Long Bridge Park, a new, three-field county complex tucked between Crystal City, the Pentagon, I-395, and the Potomac River. The club will work out there twice this week because, from what I’m told, the artificial turf field on the RFK Stadium campus is in poor condition.
It was a lovely setting, with the Washington Monument as a northern backdrop, the Air Force Memorial to the west, the towers of Crystal City to the south, and jets ascending and descending at Reagan National less than a mile away.
United’s delegation will do some flying of its own Monday, when it heads to Florida’s warmth for a 10-day stay at Lakewood Ranch.
First, Coach Ben Olsen is getting his incomplete team together. The club is still aggressively pursuing reinforcements from overseas — namely, a striker — and will shuffle numerous trialists through camp over the next few weeks.
Maicon Santos, the Brazilian forward who has toiled in MLS since 2009, has officially joined the club, but no other veteran acquisitions have been finalized.
“Don’t worry, guys, we’re going to have a team,” Olsen said to a handful of shivering reporters. “I know you are all very concerned about this, but we will have a team.”
While everyone awaits new arrivals, several players are out. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is on U.S. national team duty for another week. Perry Kitchen is nursing a toe injury, suffered while training with Freiburg in Germany. Ethan White is recovering from a knee injury while on a U.S. under-23 assignment. Josh Wolff needs time for a stress fracture in his foot to heal. First-round pick Nick DeLeon is recovering from a quadriceps injury suffered at the MLS combine.
All are expected to participate soon.
Chris Pontius (broken leg in September) is still several weeks from returning to full workouts.
“These first couple days are just to get reacquainted with the ball — as many touches as possible for the rostered guys and the trialists, we’ve got to take a look at,” Olsen said. “We’ll cut that number down before we go to Florida, so it’s important for us to push them.”
In Florida, new signees and trialists will join the club.
The roster gaps at the start of camp aren’t a problem, Olsen said.
“As much as I’d like to have everyone right now,” he said, “it’s not a bad time for [the injured players] to recover in the next week or two [when] we have a full squad. That’s about when you want it anyway. These first two weeks are really about getting a base of fitness and touch the ball as much as possible.”
Current trialists include former Chicago Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (a Woodbridge, Va., native who played at Virginia Commonwealth University); forward Yoni Berhanu (Potomac, Md.;George Washington U.); midfielder Seth C’deBaca (Georgetown); forward Levi Houapeu (Germantown, Md.; UMBC; Philadelphia Union); forward Matt Oduaran (U of Maryland); goalkeepers Will Swaim (Ellicott City, Md.; U of Maryland) and Carl Goody (William Carey U.); Gambian forward Sainey Touray (USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders); and midfielders Ryan Richter (La Salle U.) and Mike da Fonte (Longwood U., Portuguese club Rio Ave).
The most intriguing trialist: Jed Zayner, who was United’s starting right back at the beginning of the 2011 season. Hamstring injuries and a knee problem limited him to four league matches. The hamstrings healed, but after surgery, the knee has little cartilage remaining. United declined to exercise his option but invited him to earn a contract.
The coaching staff will also keep a close eye on supplemental draft picks Lance Rozeboom (New Mexico), Charles Rodriguez (Charlotte) and Matt Kuhn (Drake). None is under contract.
Commenting on Maicon Santos, Olsen said: “He fits in really nice in how we want to play. He can hold the ball up and let our other attackers get into the play. And he’s familiar with [MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario, when both were in Toronto] as well. He’s familiar with the league, which helps with signings.”
Maicon Santos will return this week to Dallas to sort out personal matters and rejoin United in Florida.
He said he also considered options in MLS, Brazil and Europe before entering into serious talks with United. Reunited with DeRo, “is going to be great. He knows how to pass the ball. Back in Toronto with him was amazing.”
Even before talking with United, Maicon Santos said he was in regular communication with De Rosario.
United is his fourth club in four seasons and “I want him to settle in,” Olsen said. “I want him to stay here for a couple of years and have success. I think he’s excited for that opportunity.”
Asked if De Rosario will take a greater leadership role this year after arriving mid-season in 2011, Olsen said: “He took a leadership role the day he got here. He’s that type of guy. I expect that to be enhanced even further this year.”
Kitchen said he was injured in a Freiburg training session when he tried to poke the ball and his big toe “just bent straight up. It didn’t feel good, but I’m making progress.”
High-priced midfielder Branko Boskovic said his surgically repaired knee healed properly and he’s eager to test it in serious workouts. What’s his role this season? “We’re going to see,” said Boskovic, who plays on the left side and centrally. “Like every season, I need to prove myself. I have to find my place.”
Robbie Russell, slated to start at right back, is beginning to bond with his new teammates after arriving from Real Salt Lake.
His opening-day observations:
“The locker room is a little small right now,” he said in reference to the club’s on-going pursuit of additional players. “We have some spaces to fill and the coaches are working hard to fill those spaces, which means we have a lot of turnover.
“You can tell Ben has something in mind; he wants to do something. Until we fill out the locker room, we can’t really know what the team is going to be. Over time we will figure that out.”