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Thursday, February 17, 2011
MLS Quick Look: D.C. United

By Scott French

D.C. United flew in Wednesday for a 10-day camp at Oxnard College, and the club has scheduled friendlies against the Ventura County Fusion, UC Santa Barbara and Chivas USA.

D.C. takes on the Fusion on Saturday afternoon (3:30) at Oxnard College, meets UC Santa Barbara in the Gauchos' Harder Stadium on Thursday night (7), and scrimmages Chivas USA at an undetermined Home Depot Center field on Feb. 25.

Here's a quick look at D.C. United:

MLS's most decorated club, with four MLS Cup titles (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004) and one of the league's two CONCACAF Champions' Cup titles (1998; the Galaxy captured the other, in 2000), provided the league its first dynasty, reaching the first four title games (the first three under Bruce Arena) with three championships in that span. The club's heroes: Bolivians Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry, Eddie Pope and, of course, Ben Olsen, who followed a revered career in D.C. by taking charge of the club late in last year's horrendous campaign. United went 6-20-4, the league's worst mark, after winning only three of its first 20 games. Injuries were an issue, but so was a roster light on talent and depth, and Olsen stepped in after Curt Onalfo's ouster in August. (Onalfo has since joined Arena's Galaxy staff.)

Olsen is one of the most respected and beloved figures in American soccer, bright and funny, a real leader, with World Cup (in 2006) ability. The midfielder, who spent nearly his entire post-collegiate career with D.C. (there was a brief loan to England's Nottingham Forest) won MLS's Rookie of the Year in 1998 as a speedy winger with a sure attacking sense, but ankle injuries slowed his pace, and he transitioned into a tough, savvy central midfielder and was an MLS Best XI selection in 2007. His ankle problems forced his retirement after the 2009 season.

The former University of Virginia star -- Arena recruited him to Charlottesville -- made a positive impact for D.C. after taking charge as interim coach on Aug. 4, and the club played its best soccer down the stretch. After club president/CEO Kevin Payne (brother of Galaxy president of business operations Tom Payne) declared late in the season that Olsen would not be considered for the full-time post, he accepted the job in late November.

“Benny’s installed this no-nonsense mentality. Things are going to get done his way, and if anyone has a problem with that, they’re not going to be around,” forward Chris Pontius told MLS's website. “Everyone’s bought into it.”

Charlie Davies changes things, but we still like Andy Najar, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year and one of the most electric players in the league. The Honduran-born winger, who moved to Virginia and joined D.C. United's academy when he was 13, is still a teen -- he's 17 for another month -- and he's got two nation's soccer fans on edge as he mulls his international future.

He's eligible for the U.S. and Honduras, and reports that he has decided one way or another haven't been accurate. The Hondurans are applying pressure, and the Americans are giving him space to make his choice. It's a big deal for both sides: Najar already appears special, with skill, speed and especially instinct that cannot be taught.

A week ago, it was all about whether Davies, the speedy U.S. striker who hasn't played, not really, since a deadly car accident 16 months ago, would be spending the next year with D.C. as he rebuilds his career.

He impressed in a one-week trial, and United completed a loan agreement with Sochaux, Davies' French club, and on Wednesday officially introduced him as the club's newest player.

Now it's how many goals will he score.

Davies, 24, looked set for a World Cup starting job before an October 2009 accident that killed a fellow passenger and left him with a lacerated bladder, fractured right tibia and femur, fractured elbow, facial injuries and bleeding on the brain and facing several surgeries and a long rehabilitation in which he made a failed attempt to return in time to make it to South Africa. When he was unable to crack Sochaux's lineup last fall, MLS offered an opportunity to play.

At his news conference, Davies thanked D.C. for “giving me this chance to come here and prove myself again to the American public, and the world, that I’m back. … I needed a new atmosphere, a new environment and I found it. I’m extremely excited and happy; I haven’t felt this way in a while. It’s definitely a great feeling.”

A scar is visible on the side of Davies' head, and he's vowed to keep his hair very short so that it always can be seen -- as a reminder of the crash and of the work he's done to return to the field.

Pontius is a local boy, from Yorba Linda (Servite HS/UC Santa Barbara). … Goalkeeper Steve Cronin, midfielder Santino Quaranta and forward Joseph Ngwenya formerly were with the Galaxy. … Dax McCarty's little brother, Dustin, is a rookie with the Galaxy.

Cronin suffered a broken wrist in training last week and will be out about 10 weeks, missing at least three regular-season games. His primary competition for the starting job in the nets, Bill Hamid, is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery. … Brazilian midfielder Junior Carreiro, younger brother of former D.C./Philadelphia winger Fred, could miss the camp because of a sprained ankle.

D.C. opens the season at home March 19 vs. Columbus. … The game against Chivas will be D.C.'s first against MLS competition this preseason. The Red-and-Black crushed Canada's U-20s (5-1), Florida International University (4-0) and Trinidad & Tobago's U-20s (4-0) during a two-week stop in Florida. … Ngwenya, a Zimbabwean attacker who returned to MLS last season after two years in Austria and Turkey, started his pro career with the Galaxy in 2004. D.C. picked him up from Houston in December's re-entry draft. He scored four goals in Florida, with a hat trick against Canada. … Two more veteran acquisitions: Former U.S. World Cup forward Josh Wolff also arrived in the re-entry draft, from Sporting Kansas City, and McCarty came from FC Dallas (via Portland) through the expansion draft. … Colombian forward Sergio Villarreal is go begin a trial in Oxnard. D.C. also is expected to look at several goalkeepers while in California. … Top draft pick Perry Kitchen, a holding midfielder at NCAA champion Akron, has seen time in central defense.

UPDATE: D.C. United goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad, who retired as a player following last season with the Houston Dynamo, was activated to play Thursday because of the club's goalkeeper crisis. The former Canadian national-teamer, who played eight seasons for San Jose and Houston, is, at 43 last fall, the oldest player in MLS history. ... D.C. also waived Trinidadian defender Julius James.