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D.C. United’s Blake Brettschneider has gone from supplemental pick to essential component

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When D.C. United assembled a fresh front line during the offseason, Blake Brettschneider was on the periphery of the club’s plans.

Josh Wolff would provide veteran leadership and scoring expertise. Charlie Davies was the inspirational figure. Joseph Ngwenya had won an MLS Cup and toiled in Europe for a few years.

Brettschneider? Passed over in the three-round MLS draft five months ago, he waited another five days to learn his future. United then selected him in the second round of the supplemental phase, the 75th of 105 players chosen in the two-draft process.

But after earning a contract at training camp and biding his time in reserve most of the first two months of the campaign, Brettschneider has enhanced United’s improving attack with a pair of productive outings. In a reserve role, he scored in the 2-1 friendly loss to Dutch champion Ajax on May 22 at RFK Stadium, and contributed two primary assists over 90 minutes in the 3-2 league victory at Portland last Sunday.

With Davies just returning from a hamstring injury, Brettschneider might start again Friday night against the league-leading Los Angeles Galaxy (8-2-5) in Carson, Calif.

“He’s been good,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “There was a period where he and some of the other rookies hit a wall, but he’s coming out of it. He looked inspired [Sunday] and did a tremendous amount of work.”

Brettschneider, 22, a Georgia native who played at the University of South Carolina, is the fourth United rookie to make a notable impression, joining defenders Perry Kitchen (seven starts), Ethan White (six starts) and Chris Korb (five starts).

“My comfort level has grown with the more minutes I play,” said Brettschneider, whose three regular season appearances have all been starting assignments. “And to have the team success and the personal success, it has helped calm my nerves.”

His composure and aerial work set up United’s first and third goals at Portland. In the 13th minute, he met Chris Pontius’s throw-in near the end line, twisted his body and headed the ball back into Kitchen’s path for a five-yard one-timer.

Portland’s players “probably thought it was going out of bounds,” he said. “We had worked on that play a lot in practice and I knew the second wave was coming.”

Late in the match, with United leading by a goal, goalkeeper Bill Hamid delivered a long ball into Portland’s half. Brettschneider won the header that led to Wolff’s clever finish. United (4-4-3) is unbeaten in its past four MLS matches to claim third place in the Eastern Conference.

Combining size (6 feet), strength and attacking instincts, he has shown promise to become a reliable target forward — someone who can maintain possession, hold off defenders and pressure the opposing back line. United was aware of Brettschneider at South Carolina but didn’t appreciate his potential until the MLS scouting combine a few days before the draft.

Of all the coaches, Pat Onstad, who oversees the goalkeepers, was most impressed.

“Pat really liked him,” Olsen said, “and he wouldn’t let it go.”

United risked missing the chance to acquire him by waiting until the supplemental draft; the team’s only pick came in the second round of that three-round phase.

Brettschneider was a pleasant surprise in preseason, scoring four goals and displaying a relentless work rate. Once the season began, Olsen emphasized ball control. “He is always telling me, ‘The ball is precious, it’s yours, don’t lose it,’ ” Brettschneider said.

Said Olsen: “He played in the moment and made things happen. He completely played his way onto this team. And now we’re seeing what he can do.”

United notes: Defender Dejan Jakovic, on assignment with Canada’s national team, injured a hamstring in the first half of a 2-2 friendly draw with Ecuador on Wednesday and might miss the Gold Cup, which begins this Sunday.

With Jakovic away, Kitchen is the top candidate to partner with White in central defense. Kitchen has played on the right corner the past four league matches. . . .

Midfielder Dax McCarty, who missed the Portland match with a groin injury, is listed as probable. . . . The Galaxy is without two Gold Cup-bound players, Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts and U.S. midfielder-forward Landon Donovan, who also missed the teams’ 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium in April with a sore knee. . . . Los Angeles is 4-0-2 at home this season.

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