Tampa Bay Sports Day

United reload for away campaign

Smiles have finally surfaced around the DC United camp fire as they prepare for a critical stretch of three straight road league matches starting this Saturday in Columbus, interrupted by a midweek U.S Open Cup home match next week against Richmond. A six game unbeaten streak will typically do that even if two of the wins were exhibitions.

But many of the traveling entourage will be keenly focused on another match in another tournament starting 5 ½ hours earlier in a land far, far away.

United have trained diligently throughout the two week MLS hiatus, one, to get healthy and two, to keep the momentum of their inspired play and these good results. But at the same time, they have indulged and enjoyed the goings on at the most important event of their sport and the biggest sporting event in the world.

“What we usually do is watch the first half of the game and then we come out and they can DVR and watch the rest of the game,” said United coach Curt Onalfo after Tuesday’s training session. “They come out and they are professionals, ready to train. We had a good training session today and we have had good training sessions throughout the entire World Cup.

“We feel like we’ve made up some ground in the time off to improve as a group and we have some tactical stuff to work on the rest of the week to get ourselves ready for what is going to be a tough game against Columbus.”

They even scheduled around the United States team’s final group match with Algeria on Wednesday, taking the morning off then having a team barbeque before training later in the afternoon. The epic 1-0 victory by the United States in stoppage time was well worth it whether you were cheering for the Americans or not.

“I watched the entire U.S. match on my phone as I was shopping for furniture,” said goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who earned 6 caps for the United States team in 2009. “I’m being serious, I was walking through the store making all kind of noises with people looking at me, and when we scored I actually threw the phone up in the air and ran around the store – I just lost it.”

Santino Quaranta, who has earned 15 caps with the senior squad since 2005 including four in 2009, had nothing but love for his occasional teammates and coach.

“Bob has been brilliant,” said Quaranta, who scored his first and only National Team goal in a 2-0 Gold Cup win over Honduras on July 8, 2009 at RFK Stadium. “I think a lot of people kind of questioned him throughout these last couple of years but for me, when I finally got to play for him and seeing him coach in the World Cup, he’s been tremendous.”

“For me, there is no clear cut favorite so I don’t see why this team can’t make a run and I texted this to one of my buddies yesterday; that it’s crazy to say that the U.S. might be able to make a run at a World Cup,” he continued.

But when they got down to their own business, United are balancing the urgency to keep the positive momentum going with getting healthy. The latter took another unexpected turn with Carey Talley’s concussion keeping him out longer than expected, adding to Rodney Wallace’s broken fibula and Jordan Graye’s hip flexor strain.

“We certainly take some major steps forward and obviously we took a major step back with Wallace and that broken bone. Carey has thrown us for a little bit of a loop with his injury and it looks to me like Graye will be touch and go whether or not he is ready this weekend and (Marc) Burch is just moving along and it’s too early to tell whether if he can go this weekend…I feel like we are getting better but not where we would like to be but certainly good signs.,” said Onalfo.

Talley, who has now had four concussions in his career, had another round of tests on Wednesday but is not to the point where can work out without getting headaches. Burch played 61-minutes in United’s 1-0 win over El Salvador’s National Team in a charity event last Saturday. It was his first appearance since October 23, 2009 against Kansas City after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot.

“I thought he had a solid performance against El Salvador but it’s a game where we had a lot of the ball and didn’t have to do a lot of defending,” Onalfo said about Burch

Onalfo, in his usual manner, mixed urgency with optimism with his training plans over the break.

“The philosophy was, ‘we didn’t have a great start; we have some make up to do here.’ In our last six games, we have won five and tied one if you look at all of the exhibitions and in league play, out of the last three games, we’ve won two and tied one. We want to build on that and accumulate some more wins and move ourselves up the standings and get ourselves in playoff contention,” said United coach Curt Onalfo.

“It’s been very competitive (in training) but at the same time we have had smiles on our faces because we have gotten some results and that’s how this business works.”

“Just focusing on the same things we’ve been doing for the last couple of games-defending; defending as a team, staying compact and finishing our chances,” added defender Dejan Jakovic, a Canadian International whose native Serbia fell just short of advancing after a surprising 2-1 loss to Australia in their final match. “We finally have gotten some luck go our way. Things are good and everyone is happy.”

With the El Salvador match however, the break wasn’t very long. But with what seems to be a bright attitude and players looking to get their crumbs of playing time, Onalfo’s decision on his starting XI could be a difficult one.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of time (off),” laughed Quaranta. “We played that game but it was good to get away for a couple of days. It’s very important especially this time of year, we got these next three games on the road and it’s an important stretch for us and we want to catch Columbus. Now it’s hard for Curt to pick a starting XI because there is a lot of competition now and I think that is good.”