*Guatemalan forward Carlos Ruiz has not played a competitive match in almost five months, but after conditioning on his own through the winter and training regularly with D.C. United since signing about two weeks ago, he is close to making his debut.
He is still weeks from being fully fit, eliminating the possibility of cracking the starting lineup anytime soon, but Coach Ben Olsen suggested he is in the mix for a second-half appearance as early as Saturday’s home opener against Real Salt Lake.
“I think he is ready to go – it’s just a matter of how many minutes he has in him from a fitness standpoint. I’m not sure what the number is,” Olsen said. “You get out there and the adrenaline kicks in. But I have no problem putting him in.”
Ruiz, 33, is third in career goals among active MLS players and offers a menacing quality that United lacked in the 2-0 loss at Houston last Saturday. He was included on the 18-man game-day roster at BBVA Compass Stadium but, lacking fitness, wasn’t in Olsen’s immediate plans.
“Every day he looks better, every day he looks sharper,” Olsen said. “His training endurance is getting longer.”
United will again be without forward Dwayne De Rosario, its most influential attacker, who was suspended by MLS for the first two matches.
*Left back Daniel Woolard‘s removal at halftime of the Houston match was tactical and unrelated to the concussion issues that sidelined him the latter part of the 2012 season.
Woolard had received a yellow card in the first half and “didn’t necessarily have his legs,” Olsen said of the veteran’s energy and endurance. James Riley entered for Woolard and lined up on the right side, a move that shifted Chris Korb to the left.
“I wanted to get the ball a little bit more. James has that ability,” Olsen said. “They are different players, they offer different things. That is not the first time we will move around outside backs to change things up.”
*The club finalized a contract with rookie left back Taylor Kemp, a first-round draft pick from Maryland. Terms were not disclosed.
*Kemp and second-year midfielder-defender Conor Shanosky appear to be the top candidates for full-time duty with the third-division Richmond Kickers. The initial plan was to send four players to Richmond for the full USL season, but United seems more likely to assign two players and shuttle two others back and forth throughout the year.
Based in part on the depth chart, forward Casey Townsend and defender Ethan White are likely to fill the hybrid roles. Others will make periodic appearances with the Kickers. An announcement concerning the four primary assignments is expected within a week.
*United will gets its reserves and young players some work this Sunday morning (field conditions permitting) against the University of Maryland and March 24 against the University of Virginia. It remains unclear whether the matches are going to be open to the public.
*Chris Pontius missed practice and the luncheon because of illness but is expected to return soon.
*Ticket sales for Saturday’s opener are around 12,000, a club official said. The aim of selling out RFK Stadium’s downsized capacity (19,647) is probably too ambitious, but a crowd of 16,000-plus seems within reach. Last year, United’s home (and season) opener on a cold night drew 16,314.
*With United still negotiating a local TV deal, Saturday’s match will not appear on a standard outlet, club executive Doug Hicks said. Fans subscribed to the Direct Kick or MLS Live package will have access to live coverage without a local blackout.
United remains in talks with at least two outlets, including Comcast SportsNet, which (along with its predecessor, Home Team Sports) has carried the team’s games for all but one of its 17 previous seasons.
“We’re making steady progress toward a contract that will best serve the club and our fans for broadcasts and shoulder programming [coach’s show and other features] this year and beyond,” Hicks said. “Our club is generating great interest in our programming and it takes time to fully understand the opportunities. We didn’t want to jump into an agreement [just for the sake of showing this year’s opener] that wasn’t best for the long term.”
With the subsequent two matches on national outlets (March 16 at New York on NBC and March 23 vs. Columbus on NBC Sports Network), United is aiming to have a deal in place in time for the next local window: April 5 at Sporting Kansas City.
*All 16 U.S.-based MLS teams will begin play in the 100th U.S. Open Cup on May 28 in the round of 32. The final is set for Oct. 1 or 2. Full details here.