Strength in num­bers leads United to first place

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RO­MAN STUBBS D.C. United at Or­lando City SC 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Davy Ar­naud has played on many soc­cer teams as a 13-year MLS vet­eran who hap­pens to be D.C. United’s old­est player. That is why it was par­tic­u­larly stunning that, af­ter a swel­ter­ing prac­tice ses­sion Fri­day at RFK Sta­dium, the 34-year-old Ar­naud con­fessed that this edi­tion of United may also be one of the deep­est teams he’s ever been a part of.

“I don’t know how many teams could put out [13] dif­fer­ent line­ups and still be in first place,” Ar­naud said.

United has used 13 line­ups in 16 leagues games this sea­son, and it could very well roll out an­other reshuf­fled look Sun­day night when it vis­its Or­lando City. The match will mark the half­way point of the sea­son for United (8-4-4), which re­mains atop the Eastern Con­fer­ence and looks as if its health is re­cu­per­at­ing af­ter a bru­tal five-game stretch.

Start­ing goal­keeper Bill Hamid

took part in Fri­day’s train­ing ses­sion and could be ready Sun­day af­ter miss­ing two games be­cause of in­jury. Mid­fielder Chris Pon­tius and de­fender Chris Korb also prac­ticed, two cru­cial pieces who could give Coach Ben Olsen more flex­i­bil­ity with his lineup against Or­lando City (45-5).

Hamid wasn’t listed on the team’s in­jury re­port this past week, although Olsen re­mained tight-lipped on who would start in goal Sun­day. Korb and de­fender Tay­lor Kemp, who has missed two games be­cause of in­jury, are listed as prob­a­ble, while Pon­tius re­mains ques­tion­able.

Olsen had said af­ter United lost, 2-1, to Toronto FC at RFK Sta­dium on June 6 that he would have to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions re­gard­ing his ro­ta­tion for Sun­day’s game, although he re­ferred to that as a pos­i­tive Fri­day.

Man­ag­ing depth from sea­son to sea­son is dif­fi­cult in MLS be­cause of the struc­ture of the league and how the salary cap of­ten dic­tates ros­ter turnover, but Olsen has ex­celled at patch­ing up his line­ups for the first half of the sea­son in large part be­cause of the qual­ity per­son­nel the or­ga­ni­za­tion has stock­piled. But he also noted Fri­day that a num­ber of play­ers had also “come into their own” as United has en­coun­tered at­tri­tion, in­clud­ing for­ward Conor Doyle and goal­keeper An­drew Dyk­stra, nor­mally back­ups who have helped guide United as it has waded through in­juries and sus­pen­sion.

United will en­ter Sun­day’s game as close to full strength as it has been weeks— Fabian Espin­dola re­turned from in­jury and helped lift United to a 3-1 win over Chicago on June 3, then showed no signs of re­gres­sion af­ter log­ging 90 min­utes against Toronto FC. Start­ing mid­fielder Chris Rolfe re­turned from sus­pen­sion, while for­ward Luis Silva en­tered the game late for his first ac­tion since May 17 be­cause of in­jury. The team is also ex­pect­ing de­fender Markus Hal­sti back af­ter he com­pletes his na­tional team duty with Fin­land this week­end.

“We hoped that we would be able to just shuf­fle the lineup here and there, but due to in­juries, we’ve been able to lean on that depth,” Rolfe said. “It’s been very im­pres­sive, I think, how well we’ve done over that 16-game stretch.”

United was un­done by Toronto FC striker Se­bas­tian Giovinco in last week­end’s loss, and it faces a sim­i­lar chal­lenge in Or­lando City’s Kaka on Sun­day. The Brazil­ian has scored six goals in 14games­for Or­lando City, which is com­ing off a 3-2 victory over Chicago and hasn’t lost am­atch since it last faced United, which earned a 2-1 de­ci­sion at RFK on May 13.

“Like Giovinco, you can’t take some­body like [Kaka] com­pletely out of the game. But as much as you can, you have to limit [him],” Ar­naud said.

Af­ter sur­viv­ing a gru­el­ing stretch in which it played five games in 15 days, the past week was largely de­voted to re­cal­i­bra­tion for the en­tire team. That in­cluded a few days off that al­lowed play­ers to rest their bod­ies and recharge men­tally. Rolfe, who has four goals and three as­sists in 13 ap­pear­ances this sea­son, said he fully un­plugged from soc­cer and treated it as a “mini­va­ca­tion.” It was an es­sen­tial seven-day re­boot for a team that is slowly re­turn­ing to form as the sec­ond half of the sea­son ap­proaches.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.