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D.C. United arrives in Austin for second phase of training camp

I have visited a lot of places. Austin was not one of them. Until now. What the hell is wrong with me?

Truth is, I have never had an assignment in Austin. Dallas and Houston, yes. Not Austin. Just not a soccer destination. Until this week.

D.C. United is here for the ATX Pro Challenge at the University of Texas, the beginning of 12 days in the Lone Star State before jetting to Costa Rica for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Alajuelense.

United usually hits Charleston, S.C., during training camp. This year, a scheduling conflict with the Champions League nixed those plans. So if you can’t go to Charleston, America’s small-scale gastronomical wonderland, Austin is a mighty fine option.

Austin, they say, is different than the rest of Texas. The live band in the airport terminal is the first giveaway. Steve Earle, Insider musical favorite and “The Wire” actor, is performing at Waterloo Records on Thursday.

I’m going to like this place, and I’m going to eat well in this place.

“It’s a good city,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We’ll make sure the guys take in Austin.”

Olsen, an urban dweller back home, prefers to house the team in the center of cities during preseason. In Charleston, United was smack-dab in the middle of the historic low-country town. Here, the club is based in vibrant downtown.

“Preseason can be long. It’s not just for the players, but the staff too. We’re all human beings,” Olsen said. “The energy of the cities helps during a long trip. I respect these guys as men and they, in turn, can show up and do the work and then enjoy themselves.”

As long as they don’t eat too much brisket, right?

“It’s different these days. Guys get it off the field. They are not idiots like we were, or I was. They treat themselves much better as professionals. I don’t worry about that. If they are not doing the right things, we will see it on the field. They should eat proper, but if they leave Austin without having a little barbecue, that isn’t good either.”

Captain Bobby Boswell was born in Austin but left for Florida as an infant. The other Texans are Davy Arnaud (Nederland in southeast Texas), Jared Jeffrey and Conor Doyle (both from the Dallas area).

The squad trained at Mike A. Myers Stadium, which sits in the shadows of 100,000-seat Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Myers facility holds 20,000 and is home to the Texas women’s soccer team (there is no men’s program) but is best known for hosting the Texas Relays and other premier track and field events.

The field is almost perfect: immaculate grass with no crown and proper width. A 75-degree day and rich sunset (burnt orange, of course) provided the backdrop.

United will face the third-division Austin Aztex on Friday night (9 p.m. ET) at Myers Stadium. FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew meet in the first match (6:45 ET). The final and third-place match are Sunday at 2 and 4:15 ET.

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Two trialists joined DCU: Notre Dame outside back Luke Mishu, who was not drafted and spent time in Real Salt Lake preseason camp; and goalkeeper Scott Goodwin, a former North Carolina Tar Heel who was with the second-division Carolina RailHawks last year.

Midfielder Andrew Driver, on trial for three weeks, was let go. He became expendable when United claimed midfielder Michael Farfan (Philadelphia Union, Cruz Azul) through the MLS allocation order Tuesday.

“Driver had a good camp, but Farfan fills a need over Driver,” Olsen said. “His versatility, his experience in this league, and we are also looking for some help in our rhythm. He’s a guy who understands how to pass and make final plays.”

For those thinking United was fleeced in the trade with Houston for Driver, the deal was consummated in large part for roster management purposes. Joe Willis was out of contract and not going to return as the No. 3 keeper. And if Samuel Inkoom hadn’t been included in the trade, United would have had to protect him (as an international player) in the expansion draft, exposing starting left back Taylor Kemp to Orlando City or New York City FC.

All along, Driver was a fringe candidate for a roster slot.

Farfan, who was scheduled to arrive Wednesday evening, was coveted by United and the Seattle Sounders. In fact, he had been training with the Sounders recently. United, though, sat two slots ahead of Seattle on the league list.

Goodwin will challenge holdover trialist Travis Worra for the third goalkeeping slot, although Olsen has not ruled out other candidates. (Roster moves around the league could provide additional options.) Bill Hamid and Andrew Dykstra will probably see their first preseason action here in Austin after sitting out the three Florida friendlies.

Other trialists still in camp: midfielder-forward David Estrada and defender Rauwshan McKenzie.

Midfielder Perry Kitchen will report to camp Thursday after a month with the U.S. national team — and his first cap Sunday against Panama. Defender Steve Birnbaum, who made his U.S. debut vs. Chile but injured a knee in training last week, is also scheduled to arrive Thursday. Birnbaum will probably need about two weeks to recover from the MCL ailment.

“We’re missing Perry right now,” Olsen said. “We’re missing his energy and commitment, so hopefully he can give us a little spark.”

Forwards Eddie Johnson (health issues) and Michael Seaton (knee surgery) did not travel.

During Wednesday’s training session, forward Luis Silva worked on the side in his continuing rehab from a hamstring injury. Defender Chris Korb sat out for unspecified reasons but did not appear to be nursing a significant injury.

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Jersey number updates:

Farfan will probably wear No. 12.

Markus Halsti took No. 4, formerly worn by Nana Attakora.

Dan Metzger is No. 16.

Miguel Aguilar is No. 17, formerly worn by Conor Shanosky.

[UPDATE: Aguilar, a first-round draft pick from the University of San Francisco, has signed a contract.]

Jairo Arrieta is No. 19 (Kyle Porter).

Kemp switched from 33 to 2 (Jeff Parke).

And Fabian Espindola claimed the fabled No. 10 jersey. (He was 9 last year.)

Only four DCU players have worn No. 10: Marco Etcheverry, Christian Gomez, Marcelo Gallardo (one season) and Dax McCarty (half-season).

Why No. 10?

“I like that number,” Espindola said.

Ever wear it before?

“Nah, just when I was young.”

That was Diego Maradona‘s number …

“Yeah, I will try that number and see how the season goes.”

Only a few guys have worn it for United.

“You have to earn it. I had a good year last year. But now I have to do even better to keep it.”

Espindola spent much of the offseason back home in Argentina.

“Time with the family, good meat. I didn’t drink much red wine because I was training.”

It’s an unusual situation, playing in the CONCACAF matches and then missing six league matches on suspension.

“We have these two important games and then I have to watch the team play for a while. It’s going to be tough.”

How closely are you following the MLS labor talks?

“I hear what they say about the meetings. I am with the players, of course. Whatever they decide is okay for me. If they decide we have to strike, then we will do it. Free agency, the entire world is like that. It makes sense.”

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Quote(s) of the day, as reported by T.J. Scholl in the latest preseason report on dcunited.com:

Finnish-born Halsti: “Back home, we think all Texans have big hats and big belt buckles.”

Virginia-bred Dykstra: “Well, Texans think you are a fish-eating Viking.”

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After the Austin visit, United will bus to Dallas on Monday for a week of workouts and a friendly against FC Dallas at Toyota Stadium in Frisco next Friday. (FCD will let supporters choose the field design.)

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Road trip eats: Licha’s Cantina for Mexico City cuisine in a restored 1920s bungalow in east Austin.

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