While the U.S. men’s national team gets set for the first of back-to-back World Cup qualifying matches against Jamaica – see my piece on tonight’s game – D.C. United is taking advantage of the international fixture to play a pair of reserve games against the Montreal Impact.
The first takes place this afternoon at 2 p.m. at Stade Saputo, where the first team suffered a 3-0 loss a couple of weekends ago. The second is on the United training field on Tuesday morning at 11 a.m., a few hours before the U.S. meets Jamaica again, in Columbus.
A few of the United players expected to play in today’s game are guys that desperately need minutes to sharpen their form and get themselves prepared to fight for minutes down the stretch as D.C. tries to end its four-year playoff drought.
Forward Maicon Santos played nine minutes off the bench in D.C.’s 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last month, his first playing time since July 21. He’s been battling both a loss of form along with toe and ankle issues.
“It’s been frustrating, really frustrating,” Santos said. “This summer’s been kind of awful for me… I just focus right now on working hard every day to get my shape back and get back to play the same way I was at the beginning.”
Midfielder Branko Boskovic said his recent bout of stomach flu was awful – it’s been going around the locker room, too, with Dejan Jakovic, Bill Hamid and recent arrival Raphael Augusto among the victims. But Boskovic was impressed with what he saw from the team in Salt Lake City.
“When look at how we play and everything, our possession against a good team like Salt Lake, I think it was our best performance this season when we play outside [of RFK Stadium],” Boskovic said. “I think we deserve maybe one point maybe win because we really play like when we’re at home. It’s good for us in this moment – it’s not good because we lose, but it’s good because we play like at home, like we want to win the game and show everybody we are a good team.”
Boskovic also ruled himself out of any World Cup qualifying games with Montenegro until the MLS season is over.
“Normally the door is open there,” he said. “If I call and say I want to come and play, it’s no problem. But I speak with them and say there are seven games here now, I want to focus on that and stay.”
Boskovic said that even when he was playing in Euro 2012 qualification matches, the travel was brutal.
“Maybe if I fly with a private jet, it’s better,” he joked. “But with economy class, it’s difficult. After 15 hours, I cannot walk.”
A couple of other players are also back from longer injury issues, though there is still some ways to go for Daniel Woolard, who has made progress returning from concussion symptoms but must pass certain protocols before he can play again. Defender Robbie Russell has been training for about a week after having stem cell therapy to help speed the repair what he said was a 60 percent tear in the plantar fascia in his left foot. It had been a nagging problem for a while but then came undone completely in the first half of United’s dreadful 4-0 loss at Houston on July 15.
“I knew it had snapped,” Russell said. “I felt a pop, but it was strange because I had been dealing with plantar fasciitis before that. I was in such a high level of pain that when it snapped, it felt like relief. Which meant I knew that something was wrong.”
Rookie Lance Rozeboom also took part in some 5-v-2 work on Thursday, his first action since suffering an ACL tear in his left knee in preseason. Will he be able to finally put on jersey this season?
“I believe that I will be able to,” Rozeboom said. “I plan on playing in a reserve game next month – so hopefully in October. It just depends on what they need.”
With D.C. United sitting just outside of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, it’s not an ideal situation for the rookie midfielder to get his feet wet. But Rozeboom can get some satisfaction from rejoining training and pushing the first team.
Speaking of the starters, with how satisfied United coach Ben Olsen has been with Lionard Pajoy, it seems unlikely that Santos makes an immediate jump back into the lineup. Boskovic also appears to be back in a reserve role. It will be interesting to see how the reserve matches unfold.
“It’s always going to be competitive at training when you have a group of guys that want to get on the field, and are experienced and accomplished enough to start for this team,” Olsen said. “We’ll see how it goes. I think we’ve had a fairly consistent lineup. I think we’re zeroing in on a starting lineup that’s going to work for us.”
As for team’s mentality down the stretch, Olsen feels good despite leaving some points on the table during August’s busy slate.
“I don’t mind chasing,” Olsen said. “I think we’re right there. We’re right where we thought we’d probably be at the beginning of this season. Now we have an important stretch to put up or shut up.”