Photo by Brad Smith/ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
If you had spoken with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen this past offseason and told him centerback Ethan White, a 20-year-old Homegrown Player, would start 19 matches his rookie year, he "probably wouldn't have believed you."
Yet the University of Maryland product has done just that. With Canada international Dejan Jakovic sidelined by a hamstring strain, White started five consecutive games last month before suffering an MCL sprain that kept him out of Sunday's loss at Columbus. He also scored his first goal Sept. 21 during a 2-2 draw against Chivas USA.
"We've asked a lot of Ethan in his first year, but overall it's been pretty good," Olsen said. "He has his moments where he looks like a young defender, but he is a young defender, so this is to be expected from him.
"To his credit, he stepped in. He's a physical guy, still learning day in, day out, great attitude, always willing to push his fitness, to push his mind to learn the game. He's been a pleasant surprise."
Here are some more notes from around the Eastern Conference:
As devastating as Tuesday's loss to Seattle in the U.S. Open Cup final was for Chicago, the team can't afford to dwell on the defeat. With three matches left and the playoffs still a possibility thanks to a late-season run, the Fire now turns its focus back to league play.
"We've got to win the rest of our games," captain Logan Pause told Fox Soccer after Tuesday's loss. "We can't keep looking at the table and hoping for help. We know if we win our last three games, it'll put us in a good spot. From there, only God knows."
Sidelined with a bruised right leg since Aug. 5, midfielder Eddie Gaven returned to the lineup Sunday against D.C. United and provided the winning goal in Columbus' 2-1 triumph via a spectacular diving header. The Crew had been mired in an 0-5-1 slump before the win.
"You always want to have Eddie Gaven on the field," defender Danny O’Rourke said to MLSsoccer.com. "He brings so much to the game that goes unnoticed. He makes good runs. You wouldn't know he's been out a month doing a little bit of fitness here and there. He's running all over the place. He's a smart player. He rarely makes a bad decision."
With Houston fighting for its playoff life, defender Andre Hainault declined to make himself available for Canada national team duty so he could rest a groin injury. Canada will face St. Lucia on Friday and Puerto Rico on Tuesday in World Cup qualifiers, while Houston's next match is Oct. 14 against Portland.
"It's been a long season," Hainault told the Houston Chronicle. "We've had some ups and downs. We're right in the mix. I don't want to have any regrets, so I want to put all my eggs in that [Dynamo playoff push] basket."
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
With the Revolution mathematically eliminated from playoffs, the final weeks of the season have become an audition of sorts for players to prove they should survive the offseason upheaval that is surely around the corner.
"At this point, we're fighting for [our] jobs,” defender-midfielder Chris Tierney said to ESPN Boston. “[We're] trying to make sure every individual is doing what they have to do to prove that they deserve a job in this league."
NEW YORK RED BULLS
Thanks to a 2-0 win over Los Angeles on Tuesday, New York is currently tied with Houston as the last team in the playoff field but also just two points behind Kansas City for first place in the Eastern Conference. Noting the considerable talent the Red Bulls boast, forward Luke Rodgers likes his team's chances going forward.
"With this team we've got, we can beat anyone," Rodgers said to the New York Post. "You've seen that. We played the best team in the league and we battered them in my eyes, so if we can do that the last two games and then carry on, build momentum, who knows?"
All-Star goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon trained Wednesday for the first time since suffering a broken finger Sept. 3, although his status for Saturday's match at Seattle remains uncertain. Rookie Zac MacMath has gone 2-0-4 in Mondragon's absence.
"He was training with us today and is feeling well," manager Peter Nowak said at his Wednesday press conference. "We'll see where we are at the end of the week. We'll find out before we go to Seattle, but I believe he will travel with us."
SPORTING KANSAS CITY
Striker Kei Kamara left Kansas City after training Wednesday to travel to South Africa for Sierra Leone's African Cup of Nations qualifying finale against the Bafana Bafana. Sierra Leone is on the verge of qualifying for its first African Cup of Nations since 1996.
"It's a big game for us, a very big game for the nation," Kamara told SportingKC.com. "We just have to stay focused."
Playing for a club that has revamped its roster throughout this season, centerback Ty Harden has been about as consistent as they come for Toronto, starting 22 league matches this year.
"I think the season has gotten my confidence level back to where it should be," Harden said to MLSsoccer.com. "Playing significant minutes and being counted on and all that has really helped. On the ball, we've played a lot more this year, and I think that suits me better than maybe ways we've played in the past."