Photo by Jose L. Argueta/ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
The majority of D.C. United's offseason roster questions have not fully been answered, and as the club's preseason got underway with the first day of training on Wednesday, it is clear that there is plenty to be done before the team takes its final shape.
Following the offseason purge of veterans such as Santino Quaranta and Clyde Simms and accompanying that with Wednesday's addition of Brazilian forward Maicon Santos, D.C. has just 20 players currently on its senior roster.
Taking into account the fact that Josh Wolff, who is in the final stages of recovering from an end-of-2011 stress fracture in his foot, was absent from training; Bill Hamid is away with the senior national team; Chris Pontius is still recovering from a broken leg; and first-round SuperDraft pick Nick DeLeon was limited for the most part to jogging and stretching while he finishes recovering from an upper leg injury suffered at the combine, there were 16 active, signed players on the field at Long Bridge Park in Arlington, Va., accompanied by 11 trialists and three unsigned Supplemental Draft picks.
"Don't worry guys, we're going to have a team," United coach Ben Olsen quipped to reporters. "Obviously the trialists we have to take a look at. We'll cut that number down before we go to Florida, so it's important for us to push them and make sure we sort that situation out."
Among the trialists are veteran fullback Jed Zayner, who was with D.C. last season but is out of contract and fighting for a new one; former Chicago Fire goalkeeper and area native Andrew Dykstra; recent Philadelphia Union cuts Levi Houapeu and Ryan Richter; Gambian forward Sainey Touray; and local college products such as Georgetown midfielder Seth C'deBaca, George Washington forward Yoni Berhanu and Maryland forward Matt Oduaran and goalkeeper Will Swaim.
D.C. departs the nation's capital to train in Sarasota, Fla., from Jan. 23-Feb. 2. Olsen said that in addition to whichever trialists make the first cut over the next week, new ones — and perhaps additional player signings — will meet up with the team down south.
"The locker room's a little small right now, and so we have some spaces to fill," said newly acquired right back Robbie Russell. "The coaches are working hard to fill those spaces, which means we have a lot of turnover in terms of people coming in. We already know that a lot of these guys aren't going to be coming to Florida with us, so it's a real testing day for a lot of the new guys that aren't signed yet."
United spent Wednesday's session going through the motions of returning to the training field, doing so amid extremely windy and chilly conditions.
"These first couple days are to get reacquainted with the ball, really, as many touches as possible for the roster guys," Olsen said.
With Wolff, Pontius and DeLeon on the mend and Hamid with the national team for the next week, it will still be a little while before the club has all of its first-choice options available in camp.
"As much as I'd like to have everybody right now, it's not a bad time for them to recover. In the next week or two, we'll have a full squad back, and that's about when you want it anyways. These first two weeks are about getting a base core fitness level and touching the ball as much as possible. It's not a sprint this next couple months. It's a long season, and we'll take our time and get everybody ready."
Here are some more notes from the opening of D.C. United's preseason:
SANTOS JOINS FOLD
D.C. took a step toward addressing its forward situation by adding Santos, a player who has been looking for a stable playing situation for the last three years. He has spent each of the last two seasons with multiple teams, splitting 2011 — and scoring eight goals — with Toronto FC and FC Dallas and spending 2010 with Chivas USA and Toronto FC.
Santos divulged that he had options to sign with Sporting Kansas City, the Los Angeles Galaxy and clubs outside of MLS before ultimately landing in D.C.
One of the factors that should speed up his acclimation process is that he played, and had relative success, with Dwayne De Rosario while both were on TFC.
"He knows how to work, he knows how to pass the ball," Santos said. "My time back in Toronto with him was amazing."
Olsen is hoping that not only will that past connection serve a purpose going forward, but that Santos makes a home for himself in D.C. while helping fill the void left behind by departed 11-goal scorer Charlie Davies.
"I think he's going to be great," Olsen said. "He fits in really nicely the way we want to play. He can hold the ball up and let our other attackers get into the play, and he's familiar with Dwayne as well. He's familiar with the league, which helps with signings. I'm very excited about him coming in.
"I want him to settle in and stay here for a couple of years and have success. I think he's excited for that opportunity."
KITCHEN NEARING FULL FITNESS
If it were up to Perry Kitchen, he would currently be playing with the U.S. Under-23 national team, trying to fortify his place even more on the Olympic qualifying roster. Instead, he is recovering from a case of turf toe, which prevented him from joining Caleb Porter's ongoing camp.
"It's really tough," Kitchen said. "I want to be there very bad, but at the same time I also want to be healthy. I don't want to jeopardize anything. It is a nagging injury. I don't want to miss the season because I'm trying to get to a camp."
Kitchen, who is set to inherit the starting defensive midfield role for United after playing as mostly a right back and centerback during his rookie campaign, suffered the injury while training with SC Freiburg following the November U-23 camp in Germany, He said he his about a week away from getting back to 100 percent.
"Just kind of a freak play," Kitchen said. "I went to poke the ball out, and the toe just went straight up. I felt it instantly."
WILLIS TAKES TEMPORARY REINS AS NO. 1 GOALKEEPER
With Bill Hamid on U.S. international duty and no other veteran in camp, second-year goalkeeper Joe Willis was the highest-ranking shot-stopper amidst a crew of trialists that included Dykstra, Swaim and NAIA All-American Carl Goody.
"You're not a rookie anymore, so you have a little more of a burden on your shoulders," Willis said.
Willis filled in for Hamid on spot duty during his rookie season, showing well when given the opportunity to start. With Hamid set for plenty of time away from the club assuming the United States qualifies for the Olympics, Willis' role should grow even more.
"We feel like he's a potential big-time goalkeeper," Olsen said of the University of Denver product. "He's got a great demeanor. We like everything about him."
United still needs a third goalkeeper after parting ways with veteran backup Steve Cronin. Whether that comes from this group of trialists — Dykstra has trialed with the team on multiple occasions and has MLS experience — or by bringing in a veteran, it is apparent that Willis is the heir to the throne when Hamid is called in by either Porter or Jurgen Klinsmann.
"At this point we're looking for the best available third goalkeeper," Olsen said. "If somebody comes up that we can't say no to, we always have to look at things, but right now I'm very comfortable going into the season with Bill and Joe."