Some 30 minutes after D.C. United‘s 1-1 draw at New England on Saturday, Coach Ben Olsen and his staff stood before a white board covered with names of players. The delegation would not fly to Washington the next day. Rather, it was off to Portland for a Wednesday encounter against the Timbers.
And with United’s short-term calendar consumed by games and a second cross-country journey in five weeks, Olsen needed to confront the reality of injuries, fatigue and logistics. Michael Farfan would go home, the latest to fall victim to an uncooperative hamstring. Veterans Davy Arnaud and Chris Rolfe would need to rest up for this Saturday night’s home match against Philadelphia.
Reinforcements were needed, so Jared Jeffrey, Luke Mishu and Collin Martin would report to Oregon instead of playing mid-week for the Richmond Kickers, United’s third-division affiliates.
Every MLS club embarks on punishing stretches like these. This week is United’s turn.
Olsen could assemble a long list of reasons why his team, despite boasting a 6-2-4 record and the most points in the league (22), is a decided underdog at sold-out Providence Park.
However, “I am not going to use excuses. You are not going to hear it from me,” he said. “We’ve got to man up. I sense a team that is ready to do what it takes to get a result on the road, whatever that is.”
Aside from Farfan, Arnaud and Rolfe returning home, Fabian Espindola (leg bruise), Luis Silva (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon (hamstring) will remain in Washington. Olsen is optimistic DeLeon will suit up Saturday at RFK Stadium. The other two are “coming along,” Olsen said, but not ready to play.
With the crush of games, several players will probably inherit new responsibilities against the Timbers (3-5-4, 13 points). Markus Halsti and Miguel Aguilar are prime candidates to enter the starting lineup after remaining in reserve against New England. Jairo Arrieta, who replaced Farfan in the first half against the Revolution and scored the 80th-minute equalizer, seems certain to start up front.
The bench is thin, though Olsen has options at the outside back slots and center back Steve Birnbaum, a rookie of the year finalist in 2014, is available. Birnbaum recovered from an ankle injury weeks ago but has not been able to unseat Kofi Opare, who has formed an effective partnership with captain Bobby Boswell. United’s 0.83 goals against average is third in the 20-team league, a shade behind Seattle and Colorado (0.82).
Facundo Coria made his MLS debut against the Revolution, even though he joined the club only last week and had not playing competitively in six months. Among the three reinforcements, Jeffrey is the only one to have played in a league match this season (one minute). Mishu has spent most of his rookie season with Richmond, while Martin is just returning from a two-month injury absence.
“We’re going to need everybody,” midfielder Perry Kitchen said, “but we’ll be ready for it.”
Olsen probably would have summoned Richmond-based Jalen Robinson as well, but the second-year defender was named to the U.S. under-23 national team for a competition in France. United could have declined to release him, but Olsen said the Toulon tournament was “one of my great memories as a player and Jalen will benefit from it.”
If it makes United feel any better, the Timbers also had to travel great distances ahead of Wednesday’s match after losing at Toronto on Saturday. And star playmaker Diego Valeri is nursing an ankle injury that sidelined him midway through the first half in Toronto.
This is the second of United’s three West Coast trips — D.C. visited Vancouver last month and will go to Seattle in early July — but the worst timed. It falls in the middle of five matches in 15 days. The delegation practiced Monday and Tuesday in the Portland area, utilizing artificial turf ahead of a second consecutive game on fake grass.
After Wednesday’s match, United will travel all day Thursday and have one day to prepare for Philadelphia’s visit — “a bit of a ridiculous turnaround,” Olsen said. The Union will have a full week to prepare for Saturday.
The congested schedule is “obviously not ideal,” midfielder-forward Chris Pontius said. “It’s a tough stretch for us. We’ve got to take care of ourselves and put the best team we can out there.”
D.C. United at Portland Timbers
Where: Providence Park.
When: Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
TV: Comcast SportsNet.
Records: United 6-2-4, 22 points; Timbers 3-5-4, 13 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; MFs Miguel Aguilar, Perry Kitchen, Markus Halsti, Chris Pontius; Fs Jairo Arrieta, Conor Doyle.
Portland probable starters: GK Adam Kwarasey; Ds Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; MFs Darlington Nagbe, Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara, Gaston Fernandez, Rodney Wallace; F Fanendo Adi.