D.C. United scouring the area for snow-free practice fields


“This winter has been a real challenge of figuring out where to play and how to go about this. The two times we were home [in preseason], it poured snow,” D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen said. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

In the final week of preparation for the MLS season, D.C. United has boarded vans at RFK Stadium and ridden 24 miles to an indoor sports facility in Anne Arundel County. The next day, the group traveled to Arlington to train at a county park nestled between the Pentagon and Potomac River.

The terrible winter has tormented schools, government workers, travelers . . . and the local soccer team.

Instead of strolling from the locker room to the regular training grounds outside the stadium, United has had to secure alternate locations ahead of Saturday’s opener against the visiting Columbus Crew.

From the warmth of Florida and South Carolina for the bulk of training camp to indoor and cold-weather workouts in Washington, United is suffering a touch of seasonal disorder.

“If you are stuck indoors all week, that’s an issue,” Coach Ben Olsen said after Wednesday’s workout at Arlington’s Long Bridge Park. “But the fact that we are back outside getting the cold in our lungs and letting the legs run a little further, I think we will be okay.”

United returned from Charleston, S.C., on Sunday and had a scheduled day off Monday. The snowstorm Monday wrecked any hope of practicing outdoors Tuesday, so the club ventured to Gambrills to train at Athletic Performance Inc., an indoor complex on an industrial stretch of Route 3.

United also utilized API when camp opened in January. Because of the time of year, those visits were planned well in advance.

The club then traveled to Bradenton, Fla., for several weeks of training and three matches. The return to Washington, however, was delayed two days by a storm. And when the delegation did get back, snow cover prompted additional indoor workouts. (United chose Capital Sportsplex in Prince George’s County before scrambling to Charleston.)

United is not yet able to practice on its regular grass field outside of RFK’s gates because of snow and unstable ground. An adjacent synthetic field is in such poor condition that United will not train on it. Club officials don’t expect to step onto the stadium field — which has been covered by tarps during the storms and needs care — until pregame activities.

So United has settled for Long Bridge Park, a handsome set of artificial-turf fields that houses Marymount University’s lacrosse and soccer teams and hosts numerous youth and adult leagues. Joggers huff by. Jets taking off from Reagan National Airport roar overhead. Cars buzz along Interstate 395 toward the 14th Street Bridge.

Aside from the absence of grass, the park fits United’s needs. Maintenance crews plowed the fields Tuesday, creating large mounds of snow just beyond the sidelines.

“Columbus isn’t down in Florida either, so everyone is in the same boat,” Olsen said of icy conditions impacting many MLS teams. “This winter has been a real challenge of figuring out where to play and how to go about this. The two times we were home [in preseason], it poured snow.”

On Saturday, United will have to adjust to RFK’s grass after a week on unforgiving turf.

“We’re thinking about it, and we’ve had one or two discussions about it,” goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. “We’re dealing with the elements and accepting it. What can you do? Indoors isn’t always the best situation — sometimes it hurts the ankles and knees — but the turf in Arlington is very good. We’ll get through it.”

Saturday’s game-time forecast: temperatures in the 40s with almost no chance of precipitation.

United notes: Chris Korb, projected as the primary backup at both left and right back, underwent a procedure on his left knee and will be sidelined for three to four weeks, the club said. . . .

Midfielder Chris Pontius, who last month suffered a setback in his recovery from hamstring surgery, is “moving forward,” Olsen said. However, the club’s longest-tenured player will not be ready until March 22 at Toronto FC at the earliest.

“It’s never as fast as we want it to be, but he is getting better,” Olsen said. “I don’t put expectations on Chris. It doesn’t make any sense for me to do that right now. When I see him running and incorporated back into drills, we will start thinking about Chris.”

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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