At last, after a bizarre bit of scheduling left D.C. United with a grand total of five league matches the past two months, including just one game at RFK Stadium, the club’s MLS slate is back in full swing.
In less than a one-month span, United will play four games at home and three more on the road. The busy stretch begins Saturday when D.C. (10-7-3) faces the Columbus Crew (8-7-4) at RFK (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
Before last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Paris Saint-Germain, United dropped back-to-back games for the first time since March. The second of those two contests was a 1-0 defeat in Columbus, where a Chris Birchall strike was all the Crew needed.
“They’ve put together two good results — one on us,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, also alluding to Columbus’ 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City last weekend. “But they’re coming into our home now, and we want to take advantage of that and keep this place a fortress and keep climbing up the ladder.”
One key player for United will be defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen. The subject of my story that ran in Thursday’s paper, Kitchen wishes he could be across the pond competing in the Olympics right now but hasn’t let the United States’ failure to qualify slow him down.
The Crew this season have been all about shutting down opposing attacks, with goalkeeper Andy Gruenbaum anchoring a defense that has allowed a league-low 20 goals in 19 games.
Recently, though, there has been reason to respect Columbus going forward. Recently acquired Costa Rican international Jairo Arrieta last weekend marked his third appearance with a brace, including a spectacular long-distance strike for the game-winner. And winger Dilly Duka, sidelined much of this season by a nagging hamstring injury, is back in action.
One player United will not have to deal with is newly signed designated player Federico Higuain. The brother of Real Madrid and Argentina national team striker Gonzalo Higuain is not expected to join his teammates until next week.
Also out for the Crew: midfielder Cole Grossman, who received a red card last week. Playmaker Milovan Mirosevic, meanwhile, is questionable with an adductor strain.
Here is my guess at the lineup coach Ben Olsen will roll out Saturday:
Hamid; Korb, McDonald, Dudar, Woolard; DeLeon, Kitchen, Boskovic, Pontius; De Rosario, Tan
The big surprise in training this week has been Olsen continuing to work Long Tan with the starters. The 24-year-old doesn’t have much of a resume (one goal in 18 MLS games) and has been with the team for just a month since being acquired from Vancouver. But Olsen seemed to like the work rate he showed in a start last weekend against PSG.
If Tan starts, that likely means a place on the bench for both Maicon Santos (seven goals) and Hamdi Salihi (five goals).
Also, Emiliano Dudar seems poised to make his first league appearance since straining his hamstring in late April. The center back looked sharp against PSG while going the full 90 minutes.
NEWS & NOTES
— An “encouraged” United president Kevin Payne would like to have a stadium plan clarified by the end of the year, shovels in the ground in 2013, and the venue up and running in 2015, according to an interview he gave on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on Friday. Listen here for the full segment, in which Payne was joined by Olsen. While Payne notes he is “not making any promises,” it sure sounds like the team’s new ownership group has gotten the ball rolling on the stadium front.
— Midfielder-forward Dwayne De Rosario and center back Dejan Jakovic have both been called up for Canada’s friendly Aug. 15 against Trinidad & Tobago in South Florida. They, like Albania call-up Salihi, aren’t expected to miss any games with United, who play Aug. 11 at Kansas City and Aug. 19 against Philadelphia.
— United have once again set up short-term loans for goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra and center back Ethan White. Dykstra will join the Charleston Battery for the team’s Friday-Saturday home-and-home with the Wilmington Hammerheads, while White will play for the Richmond Kickers on Friday night against Antigua Barracuda FC. Dykstra has made 14 appearances for Charleston this season and White has played in five matches for Richmond.