“In the end, the focus is solely on Orlando and the second half of the season at this point,” coach Ben Olsen said after the 2-1 loss June 19. “There are some positives to that. You don’t want to lose and get out of any competition, but sometimes it is okay to shut the door and move on.”
For United, it is a chance to display a fully healthy team for the first time in months. Defender Joseph Mora will likely start his first league game since fracturing his jaw in March at Orlando. Midfielder Russell Canouse and defender Donovan Pines will both be “ready for Wednesday for selection,” according to Olsen.
“It is nice knowing we have 17 games now to continue to build and get to where we want to get this season,” Canouse said. “We want a playoff spot, but we also want to be a top team in the east. We need to perform better and build off what we did the first 17 games.”
Fresh legs are key to United picking up necessary points to kick off the second half of the season. Pines, a homegrown player who joined United after forgoing his senior year at the University of Maryland, is a good option off the bench. He missed a month after he sprained his medial collateral ligament.
“I haven’t really been out for this long in a while,” Pines told Pro Soccer USA. “[I am] just observing from the sidelines and learning as much as possible while I am in the crowd watching the games.”
The rookie has started four games for United in a three-defender system, which the team played while navigating injuries and suspensions earlier this season. He has yet to play in United’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
“Wherever they put me, I am going to try my best in that position, do the best I can and fight for the team because I am a team player,” Pines said.
While Pines adds depth from the bench, Canouse adds instant impact as a starter at defensive midfield. His typical pairing is Junior Moreno, who is away with the Venezuelan national team at Copa America. Venezuela faces Lionel Messi and Argentina Friday in the quarterfinals.
Winger Paul Arriola is also unavailable this week. He is with the USMNT, which faces Panama in the final game of the Gold Cup group stage Wednesday at 8 p.m.
D.C. United add fresh legs as players return from injury, but must navigate the next two weeks without the two starters. Captain Wayne Rooney was disappointed after United’s exit from a chance to win an Open Cup trophy and emphasized the need to pick up points in the league.
“We have to win,” Rooney said. “I think that is clear to us. We have to win that game. The recent results aren’t good enough and it is on us players to make that right.”
When: Wednesday, June 26 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Audi Field — Washington, D.C.
Streaming: FloSports or ESPN+