D.C. United Looks Abroad to Try to Bolster Its Roster

Coach Tom Soehn's D.C. roster has been particularly undermanned of late.
Coach Tom Soehn's D.C. roster has been particularly undermanned of late. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

With the international signing window opening today, D.C. United's search for assistance began in earnest yesterday with the arrival of two European-based defenders for tryouts.

Jean-Francois Bell, 28, and David Habarugira, 20, are expected to practice with the MLS club all week in hopes of earning contracts. United has three roster openings following the release of goalkeeper Louis Crayton and defender Anthony Peters last month, and a season-ending knee injury to rookie midfielder Brandon Barklage last week.

Bell, who is from Cameroon, is a central back from the Swiss league. Habarugira plays in the middle for Burundi's national team and rose through the youth system at Anderlecht, Belgium's most successful club, before being loaned to a lower-level team.

According to sources, United is also in the market for more well-known players and hopes to finalize acquisitions in the coming weeks. The team is in need of defensive depth and might try to bolster the midfield. Although it is carrying only two goalkeepers, United might not add a third, the customary number in MLS.

One possible roster candidate is midfielder Danny Szetela, 22, a well-regarded U.S. prospect who, according to sources, is planning to return to MLS after two years in Europe and will be allocated to a team soon.

United is second on the allocation list for prominent players returning to the league, but it's unclear whether the team is interested in Szetela, who began his MLS career in 2004 with Columbus before signing with Racing Santander in Spain and being loaned to Brescia in Italy's second division.

Commenting on the broad player search that seems likely to expand to Latin America, United Coach Tom Soehn said: "We want to make sure we add depth in the spots we feel we need it, but also add the correct person that is a fit for the chemistry we have. We have so many games coming up, we want to make sure we have cover in a lot of spots, guys who can play right away."

At the moment, United is particularly undermanned. Besides the three vacant roster slots, defender Dejan Jakovic and midfielder-forward Santino Quaranta are with the Canadian and U.S. national teams, respectively, at the Gold Cup tournament for at least another weekend.

For Saturday's match against Colorado at RFK Stadium, United (5-3-9) will have 19 players available to fill the 18-man active roster.

The club will welcome back forwards Luciano Emilio and Jaime Moreno, five-goal scorers who have been recovering from injuries. Emilio (knee) has missed two league matches and two U.S. Open Cup games, while Moreno (hamstring) has been sidelined for three and two, respectively.

Said Emilio, "I am training hard with the team and, for Saturday, I think I will be ready."

Moreno said he has experienced no problems this week and "I feel like I could have some minutes" against the Rapids (6-4-6).

United scored just once in the previous two league matches and could use help.

"Their fitness is going to be an issue," Soehn said, "but we've had a couple pretty hard days of training and they've made it through both days."

United Notes: Firpo has replaced fellow Salvadoran club Chalatenango as United's opponent in the two-leg preliminary stage of the Champions League, which begins July 28 at RFK Stadium. . . . Ticket sales for United's friendly against Spanish titan Real Madrid on Aug. 9 at FedEx Field have surpassed 43,000, club officials said.

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