[UPDATE AT BOTTOM WITH SURPRISING NEWS THAT SECOND-YEAR FORWARD BLAKE BRETTSCHNEIDER HAS BEEN RELEASED.]
D.C. United swung open the doors to the clubhouse at RFK Stadium on Friday afternoon, providing an opportunity to chat with the players before they depart to Arizona on Monday for the second stage of training camp.
Instead of assembling a formal story, I will provide excerpts from media sessions with several players. On Monday morning, Coach Ben Olsen and General Manager Dave Kasper will share their thoughts on United’s signings and MLS season preparations.
DWAYNE DE ROSARIO
What is the status of your contract talks? (DeRo has a year left on his deal, and he and United are engaged in discussions concerning an enhanced, long-term package.)
“We’re moving forward.”
“Yeah, yeah, definitely. D.C. is being very helpful, I must say, in terms of keeping me up to date and helping me out.”
Many pro athletes don’t like the distraction of contracts once a season begins. Where do you fall?
“This is something I would’ve liked to be resolved a long time ago, but we’re moving in the right direction and I put that behind me and focus on my career here in D.C.”
What do you think about the club’s attacking acquisitions?
“It creates a healthy competition. If you look around the team right now, all of the areas of the field, there is competition now — and that’s good. That’s something that was lacking in the past. Now everything intensifies. Guys are more focused, guys have a more serious approach. Not that they didn’t have it before, but when you have a guy on your heels fighting for the position, it makes you that much more focused.”
There’s a bonafide scorer [Hamdi Salihi] coming in soon as well. That’s got to provide a lift.
“Hopefully he can bring that same scoring touch here in America. We can do what we can to welcome him in and hopefully he jells sooner than later. But it’s going to take some time before he settles in — it’s a different league, different lifestyle. We’re looking forward to having him.”
How are things with the club so far?
“We’re very pleased at the way the first trip of preseason turned out. It’s nice to see some guys come back healthy, come back fit — Chris [Pontius] and Branko [Boskovic]. Hopefully these guys stay that way for the rest of the season because they are important parts of this team. With some additions as well, it’s looking like everything is going in the right direction.
You played with Salihi at Rapid Vienna. What’s he like?
“I remember at SV Ried he scored a lot of goals, also at Rapid. He is very dangerous in the box. He plays with the head, left and right foot.”
Did United ask you about him before the club decided to sign him?
“In the end, maybe three, four days before, but more about how he’s like [as] a person.”
What did you tell them?
“He’s a good guy. You will see.”
How is your recovery from last year’s knee injury?
“It’s good. I participate with the team and I hope in the next camp I will feel much better. I think when we finish our preseason I am going to be ready.”
What is your best position and what has the coaching staff told you about how they want to use you?
“I can play either side out wide. I don’t have a favorable foot; I can shoot with both feet. I’m well aware of how much talent this club has out wide [Pontius, Andy Najar, Nick DeLeon] and I look at it as an opportunity to learn and contribute and fight for a spot. There’s a lot of competition, but you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Did you sense that Houston was going to trade you?
“Yes. I just didn’t know where. I wasn’t happy with the business side [contract]. I really enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot, but I just felt like it was time to make a change, and fortunately I landed here. I couldn’t be any happier. I’m only 22 and spent all three of my years in Houston, but now it’s interesting to see how things work in other clubs. I can’t stress how much I like it here.”
You and Nick DeLeon are about the same age and you’re both from the Phoenix area. Did you know each other?
“We were really close buddies growing up. We didn’t go to the same school but we lived in the same area. We’re the same age, but I played with the older guys and I was a year ahead of him in school. We’ve known each other since my junior year, his sophomore year, in high school. We played ODP together. We were on the Region IV team together. We’re going to live together here in Washington.”
You guys must be excited to head to Arizona for camp next week.
“It’s going to be great. We both have some catching up to do with friends and family. Good to be back home.”
You’ve joined camp after serving U.S. national team duty. What’s the vibe around this team?
“Everybody just has an upbeat feeling. We’re anxious to get this started. The season is looking promising.”
Olympic qualifying is approaching for you. Is that a distraction?
“It’s not a distraction; it’s motivation. That makes me want to work harder, and me working harder makes me play better. I bring it back here, I just want to be the best Bill I can for teammates here.”
How is your form after a short offseason going to England and then the national team?
“I feel sharp. I feel fine. My body, you feel it here and there, but that’s part of being young — you have to push through it, and that’s how you get better day by day. You’ve got to keep working. Juergen [Klinsmann] has said he doesn’t quite agree with the long offseason, so he wanted us working. I now know why he said that because I’m coming into preseason feeling really good and really sharp.”
With your overseas and national team experiences, do you feel you have a greater role on this club and face higher expectations?
“I’m happy the expectations are on my shoulders now. I am the type of person that hates failure, so now that I have expectations, it makes me want to work harder and help everyone around me. I want to be the older, veteran player. I want to say that guys can come and talk to me. That’s a part of growing up and I welcome it.”
What’s the progress report on your recovery from the broken leg?
“I started getting into the passing drills, no possession yet. I feel good. There are some days where the leg aches, but all the doctors said I would go through that. Hopefully, I can jump into some possession drills and full-out practices in Phoenix.”
You’re still aiming for a March 1 return?
“Yes. I’m just trying to keep on top of my fitness. There’s not much I can do about game fitness, but I was swimming and doing fitness workouts in Florida.”
Some significant attacking players are on the roster. How do you see that taking shape, and with the diversity of the attack, it’s got to take pressure off individuals?
“I think it’s awesome. Other teams can’t focus in on one guy. That’s not going to happen with us. We have a lot of options. The guy coming in from Austria has an unbelievable strike rate. You put him inside the 18, if you’re not within a foot of him, he’s putting it into the net. So hopefully we can get him the ball in the 18.”
You’re dealing with a stress fracture in your foot?
“Yeah, it’s strange it has taken this long. When we’re out in Arizona, I think I’ll be able to start running and begin ball work. I’ve turned the corner, thankfully. It really came on when we were doing our offseason training and got to the point where I just couldn’t move around. I figured it would take three or four weeks to heal, but it’s in a tough spot on my foot. It’s been 10 weeks, so it’s at a point where I can start doing more stuff and move forward. It’s been annoying in that aspect. Once we get to Arizona, I will be a little more part of the group.”
There are a lot of new players here. How long is it going to take to build a bond and chemistry?
“We had a lot of new faces last year as well, and now we have it again. It will take some time, no doubt about it. That will come from our own philosophy and the model we want on the field. Those things have to evolve. We got a good picture in the couple of games in Florida about where we are. We just need to get everyone on the same page and grab that cohesion as quickly as possible. We have a forward coming in, and that’s going to take its own time for him to get acclimated. But there’s enough experience in the group that there’s a real understanding of what it takes to get it done. In that aspect, we’re a little further along.”
There’s a lot of attacking depth.....
“You need that. Anyone who is in the attack knows you get streaky, you have injuries. It’s important to have guys who can come in and score goals, and in a variety of ways. We have to open our game up a little bit. Last year we were a little small. Maicon [Santos] gives us some beef.”
LATE-DAY UPDATE: Second-year forward Blake Brettschneider, who started nine regular season matches last season and showed promise to become a reliable attacker, was waived after Friday’s training session. He scored against the San Jose Earthquakes and had two assists against the Portland Timbers. He added three goals in the reserve division and scored against Dutch champion Ajax in a friendly.
However, he fell out of favor late in the season and didn’t perform well at United’s recent training camp in Florida. United bolstered its frontline with the recent signings of MLS veteran Maicon Santos and Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi from Rapid Vienna.