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D.C. United is in ‘survival of the fittest’ mode. For some, that’s been a struggle.

Julian Gressel, left, and D.C. United will visit defending champion Columbus on Saturday. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

D.C. United’s understaffed roster for Saturday’s match at Columbus probably is not going to look much different than last weekend. Or the week before. Or the week before that.

Injuries have crippled the start of Coach Hernán Losada’s first season, some ailments carrying over from last year and the winter but many resulting from his demanding workouts.

In all likelihood, United (1-2-0) again will have fewer than the maximum of nine available substitutes to face the reigning champion Crew (0-0-2). Last week in San Jose, there were only five players on the bench, including a backup goalkeeper.

Losada has been reticent about sharing injury details, but from all indications, few if any of the regulars who have yet to play this season will travel to Ohio.

“They are slowly being integrated into the sessions, not fully yet, but glad to see their faces on the field,” he said. “Let’s hope they slowly start to train fully with the group and we can count on them for the coming games, but it’s not going to happen this weekend.”

The group includes goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defenders Donovan Pines and Steven Birnbaum, midfielder Russell Canouse and forwards Paul Arriola and Yordy Reyna. Ola Kamara, the starting striker last year, might suit up for the first time.

Arriola, a U.S. national team player, would provide the biggest boost after he suffered a quadriceps injury this spring while on loan to Swansea City in the English second tier. Hamid (offseason hernia surgery, then a calf injury) seems close to returning, while Reyna (hamstring) is out at least three more games and Birnbaum (two ankle surgeries) for several additional weeks.

Canouse started the first two matches but didn’t travel to San Jose. He had his second coronavirus vaccine shot recently, Losada said, which set him back.

Many secondary players, such as homegrown teenagers Kevin Paredes and Griffin Yow, also have been unavailable. Last week, 13 of 30 players were sidelined, an unusually high number at any time of the season but especially at the start.

“It’s certainly been a busy time for our medical staff,” winger Julian Gressel said.

To play his high-energy system, Losada has pushed his players hard in training. After a long offseason, he said last weekend, several players were “totally unfit and many were overweight. … Some of them are paying the price.”

He said he is not planning to change his methods. A person close to the situation, who did not want to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the team, described it as “survival of the fittest.”

One of the reasons United hired Losada was to change not only the playing style but the culture following 10 seasons under Ben Olsen.

“There is definitely an adjustment period, which is still taking place, that maybe is taking a little bit longer than Hernán expected,” said defender Brendan Hines-Ike, in his first season with United after years in Belgium competing against Losada’s Beerschot team. “It’s not easy right now with the injuries. It makes the roster smaller and smaller each week, but we do have a lot of guys coming back, hopefully soon, which will be a big boost.”

As it awaits their return, United has had to guard against additional injuries.

Until the team gets up to speed, “we have to make sure the guys who are still fit and healthy stay fit and healthy,” Hines-Ike said. “Once the group can get back to a stronger number, we can continue to push forward” and reach peak levels.

United also is doubling its defensive efforts after a 4-1 defeat in San Jose.

“We have to start going into games looking a little more at keeping a [shutout] rather than trying to score as many goals as possible,” Hines-Ike said. “The goals will come.”

The attack has relied heavily on set pieces for scoring opportunities and fallen short in the run of play. United scored twice from long distance in the first half of the opener against New York City FC but once since (off a corner kick).

“We’re getting close, but we’re not getting over the hump,” Gressel said. “We’re not getting into that real dangerous area. We’re always getting into good spots, but then it’s breaking down for whatever reason. That’s the final step.”

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