Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC depth will be tested in San Jose

During the blazing summer months, roster and lineup decisions become paramount in Major League Soccer. DC United got some good news as preparations started this week coupled with the obligatory bad news of course in advance of their match at San Jose on Saturday.

Dejan Jakovic returned to full training and is likely to start against the Earthquakes. Four other players have returned to training coming off concussions. Santino Quaranta, Devin McTavish, Brandon Barklage, and Blake Brettschneider all participated in some capacity or another during the week.

The former two are still out for this weekend, but Brettschneider and Barklage have been upgraded to probable.

On the flip side, Josh Wolff (left hamstring strain) and Charlie Davies (left knee inflammation) are both questionable while Joseph Ngwenya is probable after taking a knock in the 3-1 exhibition loss to Everton last Saturday. This makes the potential return of Brettschneider, who trained the most of three concussion returnees, even more imperative.

“It’s not ideal but the good thing is that Blake got through training today but we’ll be able to put something together. We need bodies right now and everyone who is training today is in the mix,” said United coach Ben Olsen about his roster options after Tuesday’s training session.

Injuries or not, Olsen has not been too happy with the effort and mentality of some of his regulars in recent matches, though he who he would not disclose any specific names.

“It’s summer so you are always going to need fresh bodies and it does push guys that maybe lately have been too comfortable in their role,” said Olsen. “I think you saw that a little bit in New England and I think you definitely saw it against Everton. I spoke my peace with them and let them know how I feel about that and hopefully I won’t have to address that again.”

Jakovic and Brandon McDonald played alongside each other in the first half during the loss to Everton and are the likely long term combination for United in the center of defense.

“He’s a smart player. He’s very technical, he’s good on the ball,” said McDonald about Jakovic. “Whoever the coaches decide to put back there we have to come along quickly because half the season is already gone. We have to come together and mesh well and get some results.”

Rookie Ethan White has been steady as Jakovic’s fill-in but is likely to step back in favor of the Canadian international. “I can’t really do anything but play my game and make it hard on the coaches so it’s really on them at the end of the day,” said White.

United were punched in the mouth by the Earthquakes on June 11, conceding a hat trick to Steven Lenhart in a 4-2 loss at RFK Stadium.

United have won only twice in San Jose and whether at Spartan Stadium or the current Buck Shaw Stadium, the field is small and not conducive to possession and quick ball movement, which is how United have historically built their teams.

“It’s on a smaller field and just like every other away game we have to be sharp defensively and ready for a real battle and that mentality has seemed to be good for us in our away games and hopefully that will continue,” Olsen said.

“We never really build our teams to be a Route 1, smash mouth team that can always go into those places and always succeed but saying that, we’ve been able to adapt a little bit better this year,” Olsen continued. “They are very opportunistic at home, their energy level is always high and it’s just a grind and they do it better than most of the league and it’s tough to go against.”

The burly Lenhart proved too much for the intelligent but slighter and naïve United defenders to handle in the earlier loss. McDonald, who came from San Jose shortly thereafter, has shared a few secrets with his new teammates on how to handle Lenhart and the Earthquakes in general.

We got stretched offensively and defensively where they were just knocking it in between us and playing long balls into Lenhart. We have to make sure we keep closed lines and go out and get a goal early.

“He’s given us some insight but I am not going to share them with you guys,” White said with a smile.

“He does his job very well. I think he’s a bruiser,” McDonald said about Lenhart. “His job is to get on defender’s nerves and he does a good job at it. You’ve got to keep your head. He’s one of those guys that can get under your skin a little bit but that is part of soccer and you have to be mentally strong for 90-minutes.”