Robbie Russell has made three appearances for a combined 12 minutes since July. Daniel Woolard hasn’t seen any action since August.
But both defenders pronounced themselves ready to step in for suspended Andy Najar in the second game of D.C. United’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against New York on Wednesday.
“I feel great,” Russell said. “That’s the only answer I can answer. All the rest of the stuff, the coaches will have some decisions to make, and I hope I’m under consideration.”
That’s pretty diplomatic for a 33-year-old who was never expected to relinquish the position he was brought to Washington to play but was unable to reclaim after returning from a plantar fasciitis issue over the summer.
Woolard, 28, wasn’t necessarily expected to ever be a starter in the first place, but he might’ve been D.C. United’s most valuable defender before getting sidetracked by a concussion – an injury that has cursed United over the last few years. Now sporting a rugby-style helmet, which he says is much easier to wear in the cool weather, Woolard is a legitimate option for Ben Olsen’s starting lineup at Red Bull Arena.
“I think I’m ready,” said Woolard, who was seen putting in hard laps around the training field before gradually getting back into action on the ball. “I’ve got a few weeks of training in me. If that’s what it comes to, I’ll be ready to go.”
While United will lose Najar’s dynamic offensive capability, bringing Russell or Woolard back into the mix shouldn’t be a major adjustment, given who much they both have played. Russell said at this point in the year, it’s also about more than just tactics.
“When you’re playing in a playoff atmosphere like this, you’re really playing for the guy next to you,” Russell said. “Some of the guys have worked so hard this whole season, it hasn’t just been the last couple of games, it’s been the entire season. Guys have put in the effort.”
It’s shown not just in D.C. United’s unbeaten streak since losing Dwayne De Rosario in early September, but also in the growing ranks of players on the practice field, which has helped foster the roster’s tight-knit feel and is another reason why United remains confident heading into a difficult away game.
“It’d be great [to return],” Woolard said. “It’s one of the toughest injuries to go through because one day you’ll feel great, the next day you’ll be back to where you were and just have no timetable so just getting back on the training field has been really nice, a relief. It’d be great to get minutes, but it’s nice just to be back with the guys in training, feeling good and my body’s feeling good.”