WASHINGTON — Last week, short-handed D.C. United fell to Real Salt Lake 3-2, solidifying its spot at the bottom of Major League Soccer for another week. Despite the lack of winning streaks this season, United maintains an optimistic attitude.
“[The Salt Lake game] was a pretty good performance,” coach Ben Olsen said. “We let ourselves down in some moments, but there is improvement in possession and we are scoring goals on the road.”
United’s next challenge comes in the form of a 10-day away trip to California with a match late Saturday night against the San Jose Earthquakes and another a week later against top-performing LAFC.
“These longer trips you usually only do once or twice a year,” Olsen said. “They are always a good time for the group to be around each other.”
The time together will give United a chance to bond since 20 to 22 players will make the trip. It will be a rare and unusual chance for the club to find consistency in an all-but-normal season.
Where: Avaya Stadium (San Jose, Calif.)
When: Saturday, May 18 at 10:30 pm ET
Watch: News Channel 8, ESPN+
Predicted Starting XI: Steve Clark; Nick DeLeon, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Oniel Fisher; Zoltan Stieber, Chris Durkin, Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Darren Mattocks
* *United are without defender Joseph Mora, who was sent off in the Real Salt Lake game with a red card.
Last summer, D.C. United set up a press conference to announce the signing of four new players: Russell Canouse, Zoltan Stieber, Bruno Miranda and Paul Arriola.
Arriola was the headliner after United shelled out a club record $3 million in transfer fees for the former Liga MX Club Tijuana midfielder.
Fast forward to May of this year when United fell 3-2 to the Philadelphia Union. Arriola was nowhere to be found. The 23-year-old received his first red card in United’s match against the Columbus Crew two weeks prior, and due to a wonky schedule of a game sandwiched between two bye weeks, Arriola found himself sitting out for three consecutive weeks.
“The three weeks were something that no one would wish for in a season,” Arriola said prior to the match against Real Salt Lake. “It was like I just went through a preseason, and now it’s like my first game.”
The time off proved vital to the re-emergence of the United’s sole designated player. Olsen shifted Arriola to center midfield against Salt Lake. He previously played predominantly on the right wing.
Arriola thrived in his new role and scored the opening goal in United’s 3-2 loss to Real Salt Lake.
“I thought [Arriola] was the best player on the field,” Olsen said. “He really did a good job of making their backs feel uncomfortable. And he got a goal, which is a good thing, as well.”
Expect to see Arriola in the middle again against San Jose.
“I don’t see a huge reason to change him, but he is versatile,” Olsen said. “If something else makes sense to play him somewhere else we will do that. Each game is different.”
Moments after D.C. United entered its final drill — short-sided scrimmages — of training Tuesday, midfielder Ulises Segura crumpled to the ground in agony. Training staff at the RFK auxiliary field immediately tended to Segura before he walked off on his own.
The Costa Rican could miss six to eight weeks due to a sprained knee, adding to United’s ever-present list of injured players. Segura started and played in seven games this season for United. He recorded his first goal of the season against the Columbus Crew in United’s only win of the season.
“We are still down a few guys health-wise,” Olsen said. “That doesn’t leave a lot of guys.”
While United lost one central midfielder, it gained another. Junior Moreno, who was sidelined for weeks with a hamstring injury and then a subsequent injury to the other hamstring, will rejoin the team the trip.
“We will bring [Moreno] with us, which is nice,” Olsen said. “He will be most likely unavailable for that game [against San Jose], but it will be good to get him back with the group in preparations for the LAFC game.”
Defender Taylor Kemp and midfielder Russell Canouse did not make the trip as the pair recover from their respective injuries.
Revisiting Rooney Rumors
When a club waits as long as United has to spend the big bucks, rumors the size of former English national team captain Wayne Rooney are a big deal — for better or worse.
Although the club refuses to comment either way on the efforts to bring Rooney stateside, Olsen said it is eyeing much-need transfers this summer.
“It is [the media’s] job to live in this hyperbole world,” Olsen said. “If that guy came to our team, I am pretty sure he would do just fine … To me, I still view him as a attacking piece, but, again, he is not our player.”
D.C. United has also been linked to former Swansea City right back Ángel Rangel and a young, undisclosed South American player, according to the Washington Post. United minority owner Jason Levien has a stake in Swansea in addition to his role at United.
“We are going to keep trying to make this team better with some additions at the summer,” Olsen said. “That you can bank on.”