D.C. United news and notes

*Despite D.C. United’s early-season woes, the group remains in good spirits. Energy was high and interaction between players and coaches at a normal temperature during Tuesday’s training session, the first since a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls over the weekend.

If United is suffering any internal problems or is on the verge of meltdown, it’s not showing it.

“Spirit has never been an issue with this group,” Coach Ben Olsen said.

“Our team morale and mind-set is what pushed us through last last year when we got to the playoffs,” defender Brandon McDonald said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to make it as far as we did, and it was our mentality that got us that far. We were more of a team than a bunch of individuals. We all have each other’s back. Times are hard and we have to stay together and ride it out. We’ve got a bunch of good guys in here.”

*While United was being shut out for the fourth time in six matches Saturday, forward Casey Townsend scored twice in his second game on loan with third-division Richmond. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, defender Taylor Kemp and midfielder Conor Shanosky also started for the Kickers in the 4-1 victory over the Charleston Battery.

(Of note: Four of the five goals in the match were scored by current or former United players: Joseph Ngwenya notched Richmond’s first goal and John Wilson scored for the Battery.)

Sure, USL is two tiers down from MLS, but would United consider recalling Townsend soon?

“We haven’t scored a lot of goals, so we are always looking for guys who are in form,” Olsen said. “He certainly looks to be progressing pretty good with that group. Nothing is off the table right now.”

Townsend, who starred at the University of Maryland, was acquired over the winter after spending his rookie season with Chivas USA.

United officials consult regularly with Kickers Coach Leigh Cowlishaw and have the flexibility to move players back and forth from Richmond.

“They are not there as a punishment; they are there to develop and for them to eventually help us here, whether that is in a week or in two years,” Olsen said. “We will continue evaluating. … Casey is a guy we could choose to pull back for good, but in the meantime, we think games are important for him.”

*McDonald said he has not received any feedback from MLS about an incident in the Kansas City match on April 5. He had accused Sporting’s Claudio Bieler of punching him in the neck.

The league has not announced any disciplinary action. Kansas City was off last weekend, so theoretically, the league could announce a fine or suspension this week. At this point, however, the case appears to be closed.

Bieler remained in the match and eventually scored the lone goal in the 89th minute.

United has been on the short end of several pivotal decisions, McDonald said. He referenced the takedown of Raphael Augusto against Houston in the first game of the 2012 MLS conference finals — a non-penalized play that could have changed the complexity of the two-leg series — as well as the referees association’s admission last month that Kyle Porter‘s disallowed goal in a 2-1 loss to Columbus should have counted.

And then in Kansas City, “I get punched in the throat, he should be kicked out, he ends up scoring the goal. That’s a road point for us. It sucks because we deserve better than that, our fans deserve better than that.”

I asked Olsen about the incident, as well.

“You think my brain is on two weeks ago?” he said in good nature.

That is why I waited until the end of this interview session to ask you!

“I don’t give a %$#@ about two weeks ago or the incident against Brandon,” he said, almost laughing. “That I know.”

Aren’t you worried about Brandon’s neck?

“Brandon’s neck is fine. Our focus needs to be very, very narrow right now and our sole focus has to be to get a result against Philadelphia this weekend.”

Okay, moving forward, you have had a few neck-punching incidents, so to speak, with Philadelphia over the years. You expect more this weekend?

“There have been players who have gone back and forth between the teams and there was a pretty significant trade [Lionard Pajoy for Danny Cruz last summer]. It’s right down the road; proximity always plays into this stuff. Besides that, I don’t know [why there have been so many contentious matches between the clubs]. It does seem to get pretty chippy. That’s okay with me.”

*Sunday’s referee: Hilario Grajeda.

*Standard TV coverage of United returns this weekend with ESPN2 showing Sunday’s home match, starting at 5 p.m. Next week’s visit to Columbus is limited to MLS pay services, but then the next 16 matches will be available (15 on Comcast SportsNet, one on NBC Sports Network).

*While United has stumbled on the field, the organization has shown improvement at the box office with an average of 15,375 through three home dates. Last year’s final figure of 13,846 was the lowest in the club’s first 17 seasons.

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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Matt Bonesteel · April 16, 2013

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