Three days after a dour start to its MLS season, D.C. United was back at work on a radiant morning at the RFK Stadium training grounds.
Later, I will post a mini-feature about Josh Wolff becoming a player-assistant coach for the club. For now, plenty of small items need to be shared.
*United signed left-side midfielder Lewis Neal, a 30-year-old Englishman who played for third-tier Orlando City last year and trialed with Real Salt Lake this preseason. Neal’s former clubs include Stoke City (2000-05), Preston North End, Carlisle and Shrewsbury Town. Neal claims the final roster spot available under United’s salary cap, marking the end of Ryan Richter’s two-month trial.
*United officials are close to finalizing minor knee surgery for center back Ethan White.
*Goalkeeper Bill Hamid and midfielder Perry Kitchen were scheduled to depart today for U.S. under-23 national team camp in Nashville ahead of the Olympic qualifiers.
“I wish them the best of luck,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “I hope we don’t see them for a while because that means they’re doing well and they qualified. I was in the Olympics [in 2000], and it was one of the experiences I will never forget. I treasured it and I hope they get there.”
MLS clubs were under no obligation to release players so early before the qualifying tournament — the Americans open play next Thursday — but the league and USSF agreed to the schedule.
“It’s great opportunities for these kids to create memories that are a little bit different than your average Saturday game,” Olsen said, “and I don’t want to stand in the way of that.”
Hamid and Kitchen are likely to miss three United matches. Midfielder Andy Najar won’t join Honduras until after Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Galaxy in Carson, Calif. Honduras is training in California and doesn’t play its opener until March 23.
*With Hamid gone, second-year keeper Joe Willis is the top choice to start. Or is he?
“We’ll evalute them all week,” Olsen said, citing Andrew Dykstra as well. “Andrew looks fantastic. They both are capable goalkeepers.”
Later, though, Olsen said: “Joe will be fine. He will relish this opportunity.”
Marcelo Saragosa is the top choice to replace Kitchen, but the Brazilian was left off the game-day roster Saturday after recovering from a minor groin injury. Olsen also mentioned Stephen King and rookie Lance Rozeboom. United has considered center back Brandon McDonald for that role as well, but “BMc is a big piece for us back there right now,” Olsen said.
*The Galaxy on Sunday will play its fourth serious match in 12 days, perhaps providing an opening for United.
“We can hope,” Olsen said. “But they’re a pretty good team and are coached by a pretty good coach. I’m sure he will figure it out.”
Olsen reflected on Saturday’s performance.
*We obviously saw some things we need to work on. That’s one of the good parts about having a game like that — you finally see the team against another real team in a real game, and you start to evaluate who you are and what you need to fix and what you need to get better. You can’t that in preseason, especially when you don’t have your [full] team through preseason. I was hoping that cancellation in Charleston [the final preseason match, and the first with the full squad] wasn’t going to hurt us but it probably did. To get that game and that rust off a week ago would’ve been much better, but it’s no excuse. We should’ve been better. [Kansas City] was fitter than us and sharper than us in most aspects. We defended the box pretty well. We fouled up in the last minute, but overall I thought we looked more comfortable dealing with crosses and being tuned in on the defensive end. Now if we can figure out to play two-touch and pass and move and don’t complicate the game, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
*Ian Harkes, a junior at Gonzaga High School in Washington, has committed to play at Wake Forest University starting in fall 2013, said his father, John Harkes, the former United captain and current TV commentator. For details about Ian’s upbringing in a soccer household, read Paul Tenorio’s feature from last fall.