By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON — The international break has allowed D.C. United's injured players to regain health and fitness, and as a result, coach Ben Olsen has some lineup decisions to make ahead of Saturday's match against the Philadelphia Union.
"That's the good thing about the break at this point in time in the season came at a much-needed time for guys that are injured," said D.C. captain Dwayne De Rosario, who has returned from international duty with Canada. "To see everyone back, healthy, fit, it's a positive sign."
According to Olsen, everyone except rookie Lance Rozeboom (torn ACL) is available for selection against the Philadelphia Union for their regional rivalry match on Saturday. Chris Pontius, Danny Cruz and Robbie Russell were the final three to have their names removed from the injured list.
"We're very healthy right now," Olsen said. "I have a lot of options, but the important thing is the options I choose do the job on the field. It doesn't matter how many options you have, it's about the guys on the field doing the job. We'll see how we respond."
Pontius' return gives Olsen another option to consider in the attack for a team whose 28 goals are most in the league. After scoring five goals, second-most on the team, Pontius missed D.C.'s last three matches leading into the break with a glute strain. He also missed out on two U.S. Open Cup matches before returning to action in Saturday's reserve league game against Toronto FC.
"I would've loved to have played in the Open Cup match (against the Union)," Pontius said. "It's a huge tournament for us, but we put that behind us now. I'm ready to step in on Saturday."
Olsen also said that De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic, fresh off two World Cup qualifiers with Canada's national team, are both ready to go for Saturday and won't require any time off to get re-integrated into the squad.
"Players are fighting for their spots again," Pontius said. "There's battles going on all over the field, which is good, which you want to see."
Here are a few more notes from D.C. United:
WHITE LOANED TO RICHMOND
Stuck on the bench after returning from a preseason knee injury, second-year centerback Ethan White will get a chance to play this weekend — in Richmond.
White was loaned to the Richmond Kickers for the weekend, and he'll be eligible for the USL Pro side's games against the Wilmington Hammerheads and Charlotte Eagles on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
"Ethan needs games," Olsen said. "Right now he's not going to play into the 18, so we need to get guys games. We believe in that. That's why we sent Conor (Shanosky to Ft. Lauderdale). If you're not going to get consistent games here, you need to get them.
"The reserve games, it's not enough. They're different. It's nice to be on a team and be a part of something week-in and week-out in training, go through a playoffs with a team and having to be relied on by a coach and an organization. That's what Conor's doing right now, he's growing. I've spoken to their coach, and he said he's doing fine. They're playing him at centerback, so he's kind of learning a new position too. Ethan's not going to be with Richmond through the weeks, but if he still continues to not be part of the 18, it's important for him to see real games."
The reason that White was not loaned for a longer period of time is because he is still considered as part of the contingency plan should United become stretched along the back line either through injury or suspension. White played in 24 games as a rookie, and he started 21 of those.
"Ethan's still a guy that I know that if we get in trouble, that we can rely on him in games right now," Olsen said. "He's done it before, so if a centerback goes down or we need an extra defender, I've got no problems putting him in the lineup."
UNITED WARY OF UNION EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
D.C. has a bit of an idea of what the Union are going through after Peter Nowak's dismissal on Wednesday. It was not even two years ago that Olsen stepped in for the ousted Curt Onalfo and helped provide a spark during an otherwise-lost season.
Now with the Union in a similar position under interim manager John Hackworth — albeit earlier in the season with plenty of matches to go — D.C. is wary of the emotional response the Union will bring to Saturday's match at PPL Park.
"We understand the situation, and we understand that there's always an emotional response when you have a new coach," Olsen said. "In particular, a coach that a team is behind. It was going to be an emotional game regardless. Under Peter they played with a lot of commitment and fight. We can just expect the same thing per usual with Philadelphia."
The two teams played a heated Open Cup match on June 5, one that the Union won 2-1 in extra time after D.C. centerback Brandon McDonald and Philadelphia centerback Carlos Valdes were sent off for an altercation in the area. The match also prompted Olsen to challenge his team's mettle and attitude in some pointed post-game comments.
"We're past that," Olsen said. "We had some words, we had some meetings, we've cleared the air. We understand again when we're good and when we're not good and what makes us win games. A lot of times it's not the Xs and Os or the soccer side, it's the commitment and out-competing teams. When we do that, we tend to have good results. When we start to believe that we are a great team, that's when we struggle, so maybe it was important to get knocked back a little bit."
OLSEN OFFERS ALL-STAR COACHING SOLUTION
Nowak's vacated role as coach of the MLS All-Stars next month has led there to be loads of speculation about who will lead MLS against Chelsea at PPL Park on July 25. Olsen has had his name batted around as a candidate considering D.C.'s early success, the proximity of D.C. to Philadelphia and his connections to the Philadelphia area, but he played down any potential involvement on his part and instead offered a simple solution.
"They should let John (Hackworth) do it," Olsen said. "He's there, he's closest. The least amount of time of commute. Why complicate it?"