Fact: Eddie Johnson is eligible to play for D.C. United on Wednesday after completing a two-game MLS suspension.
Fact: Johnson has started every match for which he has been available this season.
Uncomfortable fact: United’s most effective frontline combination does not include Johnson, a truth learned when Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva joined forces during EJ’s three absences this summer.
So will Ben Olsen start Johnson against the Los Angeles Galaxy at StubHub Center? He might. Not because he feels obligated to use his highest-paid player or is afraid of how Johnson would react to a reserve role. United’s congested schedule and travel demands will continue influencing lineup decisions and playing time. And with Johnson fresh after missing Saturday’s visit to Kansas City, Olsen may decide to save the Espindola-Silva partnership for this Sunday’s showdown with New York at RFK Stadium. (Johnson did score in his most recent appearance, a CONCACAF Champions League game last week.)
In three starts together, Espindola and Silva have combined for seven goals and five assists. Furthermore, they seem to have a better understanding with one another than separately with Johnson, United’s marquee winter signing who has scored four goals in 19 league starts and fallen short of expectations.
“Just because people are in form does not mean we don’t need fresh bodies,” Olsen said in an interview before Monday’s training session in Carson, Calif. “We are going to need 15, 16 guys to make us successful over the long haul.”
Olsen continues to evaluate the fitness level of those who started in Kansas City’s brutal heat. Aside from the recovery of his regulars, Olsen will project availability for this weekend’s match.
“There might be a change or two to make sure we are fresh,” he said of the Galaxy game. “We have a lot of trust in a bunch of guys. We will come up with a team that gives us the best chance to get a result Wednesday and get a result this weekend.”
United already claimed the big prize on this seven-day swing: three points against Kansas City, which led the Eastern Conference by two points until D.C. posted a 3-0 victory at Sporting Park. Prudence suggests holding back against the Galaxy a bit in order to hit the rival Red Bulls at full strength — in which case, Johnson would start Wednesday and yield to the Espindola-Silva duo Sunday.
The other issue at play is Olsen’s handling of Johnson, who does not always react well to difficult situations, on and off the field.
“I don’t treat all the players the same; I don’t think you can,” Olsen said. “They all have different personalities. Eddie takes a lot of management. He is a guy who needs a little bit more attention than some of my other guys; that is no secret. But I like Eddie – that is why he is here – and he is going to be a huge part of whether or not we are successful.”
Although United scored 11 goals in the three games Johnson missed this summer, “I don’t like to look at this as we’re having success without Eddie,” Olsen said. “This has been a season’s worth of work, and he has been a part of that season. He has had his [good] moments, that is for sure, and we will continue to work to get him better in situations and how he relates to teammates, to fans, to all of that stuff. He gets in his own way sometimes.”
Besides Johnson, midfielder Kyle Porter and defender Conor Shanosky joined the squad in Los Angeles. Both started for third-division Richmond on Saturday. With the Kickers set to play at Orange County on Saturday and Galaxy II next Monday, they will remain on the West Coast all week. It is unclear whether they will suit up for United on Wednesday. Midfielder Collin Martin was also scheduled to join the first team for workouts but shelved by a groin ailment.
Defender Sean Franklin, an L.A. native who played six seasons for the Galaxy before signing with United in December, said he will have at least 50 family and friends in attendance.
In a brief pregame ceremony, Olsen and Franklin will present a gift to Galaxy star Landon Donovan, who is retiring after the season. United officials will not say what it is. But since EventsDC, which operates RFK Stadium, is also involved, a stadium memento seems likely.
Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza, a southern Maryland native and former Terrapin, has more on his mind than Wednesday’s match. His wife Megan will give birth Thursday to their first child, a son named Luca, who is suffering from a rare congenital heart defect. On this personal blog, the couple is providing updates and raising awareness.
Comcast SportsNet in the D.C. region will provide live coverage Wednesday, starting at 10:30 p.m. ET.