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D.C. United get much needed help with Vytas at left back

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The Lithuanian defender was looking for a fresh start after just 21 minutes with the Portland Timbers this season

Steven Streff

D.C. United came into the 2018 season with Taylor Kemp and Nick DeLeon set to patrol the outside defender positions for the team. Oniel Fisher was brought in during the offseason, and Joseph Mora was added just after the start of the campaign to provide depth at those two positions. However, between injuries and form, that’s not gone to plan at all for the Black-and-Red, which prompted their move for Vytautas Andriuškevičius, better known as Vytas.

Kemp never made an appearance this year before being ruled out for the rest of the season, giving way to Mora making 15 appearance at the left back position. Vytas, now in his third MLS season since joining the Portland Timbers in mid-2016, will challenge Mora for playing time, but at the minimum, will provide United with some relief at the position.

“I’m happy to be here. It gives me a chance to prove myself again,” Vytas said at his introductory press conference on Friday afternoon at Audi Field.

Vytas made 37 appearances in parts of three seasons with the Timbers, but only saw 21 minutes in league play this year. A hamstring injury derailed the start of the season for the Lithuanian national team player, while Zarek Valentin took over the spot. Vytas couldn’t get his spot back, and then Portland went and added Jorge Villafana to play at left back.

Vytas had been on United’s radar since the visit to Portland last October, and a conversation earlier this summer eventually led to the trade this week.

“It actually started last fall, at the end of the season, we were talking about positions we wanted to fill,” General Manager Dave Kasper retold at Friday’s press conference. “And left back was one of the positions we wanted to add some depth to.”

“And Ben [Olsen] said, what about this Vytas guy?” said Kasper. “I said Ben, you’re not going to get Vytas, it’s just not going to happen.”

With Vytas’ situation in Portland changing drastically in the past several months, that long shot became a reality, with United sending the Timbers $50,000 in Targeted Allocation Money for their new left back.

Vytas eventually recovered from his injury, but found it nearly impossible to get back within the starting squad of the Timbers. They are currently on a 15-game unbeaten streak within MLS play, closing in on a MLS record. Vytas played just 21 minutes over three substitute appearances this year, but added some time in the US Open Cup. Portland also kept him sharp with 4 appearances for Timbers 2 in the USL.

Training regularly, he should be ready to go as soon as Sunday, when United welcomes Orlando City to Audi Field.

“I was healthy for the last few months,” Vytas said. “Because Portland is doing so well, I was still waiting for the chance [to play]. I was training, I was playing cup games. I’m healthy, I’m feeling great.”

United faces three home games within a week starting on Sunday, so the arrival of Vytas could not have come at a better time, with United short on options to play minutes at both right and left back.

“It gives the staff a bit more peace of mind,” Olsen said on Friday. “We’ve been grinding with Joseph Mora and Oniel Fisher quite a bit, living on the edge with depth. To now have proper competition is going to help us as soon as this week. It’s a big week for us, with three games.”

United can use this week to get themselves out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference, where they have been firmly planted for most of the season. The playoffs are still a faint glimmer of hope, but Vytas believes this team is much better than their current record indicates.

“Expectations are high,” said the left back. “And I don’t think the position where our team is now shows our quality.”