There was an unusual sighting at the RFK Stadium training grounds yesterday: a healthy D.C. United roster.
Well, not entirely healthy. All-star defender Ryan Nelsen, who had hernia surgery last week and will be sidelined a month, helped time his teammates' wind sprints, and several players with long-term ailments weren't there at all. But for the first time in a few weeks, Coach Peter Nowak had most of his top players available.
"We didn't expect we were going to be in this type of situation, so it's great to see them all," he said.
United has returned from the all-star break in much better shape than the club went into it. On July 24 at Dallas, D.C. was without seven regulars for a variety of reasons and had to scramble to find two novice field players to fill the bench. The outcome was predictable: a 5-1 loss, United's worst setback of the season to extend its winless streak to three (0-2-1) since a rousing 6-2 victory over the MetroStars on July 3.
But many key players have returned, and so has the optimism. Midfielders Earnie Stewart (groin) and Ben Olsen (quadriceps) said they have improved and expect to play Saturday at San Jose. Defenders Mike Petke (leg) and Brandon Prideaux (hamstring), and midfielder Nana Kuffour (ankle) also have practiced this week and appear set to make the trip.
Forward Alecko Eskandarian and midfielder Dema Kovalenko, both of whom played in Saturday's All-Star Game at RFK, will return to the lineup after serving one-game suspensions against Dallas.
Perhaps the biggest concern is Olsen, who has suffered a series of medical setbacks the last three years.
"I'm a little bit limited right now," Olsen said of the quadriceps injury, "but hopefully by game time I'll be okay to play."
Asked if he was concerned about aggravating it, he said, "There's always that fear, and it's a legitimate fear with my body. I tend to fight through these things and I've got to learn when to say 'when.' I always want to play and I end up being out longer than I should, but I'm learning."
Despite the return of several players, United (5-7-6) continues to search for help. Technical director Dave Kasper said the team is interested in three players who could be eligible to join the club after the international transfer window opens on Aug. 15. He declined to identify them.
United, however, does appear fascinated with defender Alexander Yi, an Easton, Md., native who has been playing in Belgium but, according to sources in MLS, is very close to signing with the U.S. league. If a deal is reached, Yi would almost certainly be allocated through a weighted lottery.
United has also stayed in contact with forward Tim Lawson, who played in Germany's lower leagues for several years and had a tryout with D.C. earlier this season. A decision on Lawson will likely be made in the next two weeks.
Meantime, United plans to call in Andrew Terris as its backup goalkeeper behind Troy Perkins while Nick Rimando recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. Terris, 22, played at Stanford and is one of three pool goalies in MLS, making him available to any team in need of last-minute help.
United Note: Midfielder Bobby Convey, who was recently sold to English club Reading, made his debut for the Royals in the second half of a 4-1 exhibition loss to Manchester City on Monday. Reading will play its season opener Saturday against Brighton and Hove Albion.