D.C. United Coach Ray Hudson said he felt like a teacher on the first day of school welcoming a new group of kids into his unconventional workshop.
"They're all new faces, they don't know each other's names basically," he said after opening training camp yesterday on a cold, murky morning at RFK Stadium. "There's no comfort level there yet. They've just looked across the room at each other."
United's roster was left almost unrecognizable following a hectic offseason of trades, foreign signings, releases, a retirement and a bountiful draft. In all, 11 players have departed, 12 new ones have arrived (not including several non-roster invitees) and a few more could be on the way this week.
There were the usual opening-day follies. Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoitchkov, a player-assistant coach acquired from Chicago, got lost on his way to the stadium, and rookie midfielder Brian Carroll took an embarrassing fall as he approached a corner kick.
But Hudson also found himself prematurely giddy about what he saw at the first session -- Stoitchkov and captain Marco Etcheverry, two of the game's most famous left-footed players in their heyday, distributing passes during a full-field scrimmage; first overall draft pick and University of Virginia product Alecko Eskandarian scoring the first goal and later hitting a post; and new defenders Mike Petke and Galin Ivanov controlling the defense.
"It's very different around here," said Etcheverry, the only player remaining from United's 1996 inaugural season. "It was very sad to see some of my friends leave, but now we have many new players. . . . This year we are going to change everything."
Six players have yet to report: Goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielders Bobby Convey and Ben Olsen are with the U.S. national team preparing for Saturday's friendly against Argentina in Miami; forward Earnie Stewart won't arrive from the Netherlands until Tuesday; midfielder Jose Alegria is awaiting visa approval in Peru; and rookie goalie Doug Warren is in the process of finalizing his contract.
Despite the cold weather, United will practice in Washington for another week before heading to Florida. The club will then alternate between those sites, switching roughly once every 10 days (plus a short stay in South Carolina), until the season opener April 12 in Kansas City.
United, a three-time champion, hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999 and last year finished last among 10 teams in the overall standings, prompting Hudson and technical director Dave Kasper to overhaul the roster.
"The next couple of months, [the goal is] bringing them together, getting that comfort amongst them, that expression, just getting them bedded down and really seeing where that good chemistry is between them," said Hudson, in his second season. "After looking at this [yesterday] and thinking who's coming in, it's going to be impossible to pick a starting lineup."
United Notes: A handful of young players, including one from the republic of Georgia, are expected to arrive for workouts soon. The club also remains interested in Scottish forward-midfielder Paul Dalglish and could acquire former Colorado midfielder Joey DiGiamarino, who's working out with D.C. for a few days before heading to other MLS clubs.
DiGiamarino left MLS for Germany a few years ago but has returned after severely injuring an ankle. He's healthy again, and if he re-signs with MLS, his team likely would be determined through a weighted lottery.