Another Game, Another Series of Shuffling for D.C. United

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 25, 2009

SANTA CLARA, Calif., July 24 -- Dejan Jakovic is available again. Danny Szetela is finally eligible. Clyde Simms and Thabiso Khumalo are recovering from surgery. And Ely Allen has been added to the roster.

Just another day for D.C. United Coach Tom Soehn, who has presided over a different game-day roster almost every week this summer.

Jakovic is expected to reclaim his starting job in central defense Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes after recovering from a month of Canadian national team duty. Szetela, a 22-year-old midfielder who played in Italy's second division this past season, has been cleared to play following the arrival of his international transfer paperwork.

Szetela's availability coincides with Simms's first extended absence in almost two years. The defensive midfielder underwent hernia surgery in Germany, the club announced, and will be sidelined about three weeks.

After practicing with United for a week but not allowed to play, Szetela's wait is over. "I am glad I can finally get out there and hopefully get some minutes," he said.

United also learned Friday that midfielder-forward Thabiso "Boyzzz" Khumalo, who broke his wrist Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals, will miss four to six weeks -- a bit longer than the club had hoped.

United also announced the acquisition of Allen, a 23-year-old midfielder who made 12 appearances for the Los Angeles Galaxy last season and was playing for an amateur club in Seattle this summer. Allen signed a developmental contract and will join United next week.

Although Simms's experience and organizational skills will be missed, United wanted to address the injury before the stretch run of the regular season.

"We are glad we sent him when we did because we had some fear that it was [the hernia], and we didn't waste any time," Soehn said. "Everybody is different in the amount of time they need to come back, but at least we've gotten past it."

Simms's injury ended a streak of 48 consecutive starts in league matches while Khumalo's setback left Soehn with one less attacking option at a busy stretch of the year. After the match here, United will host Salvadoran club Firpo on Tuesday in the preliminary stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, play at Houston next weekend, face Firpo in San Salvador on Aug. 4 and then welcome Spanish superpower Real Madrid to FedEx Field on Aug. 9.

The congested calendar will test Soehn's roster depth, which now includes Szetela, who played three years for the Columbus Crew before signing with Racing Santander of Spain and being loaned to Brescia in Italy.

Having not played competitively in about a month, Szetela said he is at 85 percent game fitness and gradually adapting to new teammates and a new style.

"I was a little nervous when I came in, but I'm getting more comfortable," he said. "Growing up, I always watched D.C. and appreciated the way they played. Even though I lived five minutes from Giants Stadium [where the New York Red Bulls play], I always thought D.C. played the most exciting style of soccer. When I came back to MLS, I felt D.C. was where I would fit in the best."

Szetela might start alongside Ben Olsen in defensive midfield behind playmaker Christian Gómez. However, Soehn could opt for Andrew Jacobson, John DiRaimondo or Rodney Wallace, a left wing who has filled a central role on occasion.

"He is learning about everybody and getting better with the ball," Soehn said of Szetela. "He has had a little time off after the Italian season and it takes some time to find that flow again, especially when you are around new players and need to read what they do. When he first got here, there were some turnovers with the ball, but he's starting to get sharper as he gets fitter."

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