D.C. United held practice at the RFK Auxiliary fields on Tuesday, before they are scheduled to head out to Austin, Texas to take part in the ATX Pro Challenge. The first game will come on Friday against the Austin Aztex, and United will then face either the Columbus Crew or FC Dallas on February 15. Ben Olsen was available after practice, and touched on several subjects regarding his team and preparation for the February 26 Champions League game against L.D. Alajuelense.
On Steve Birnbaum's health after he sustained a MCL injury on national team duty:
"He's [Birnbaum] is out there [California] and he will meet us in Texas on Thursday, as will Perry [Kitchen]. They're [US national team] dealing with him. He got a scan, and it's what they thought. Everything looks pretty good, and we're still hoping for under two weeks to get him fully back into training."
While Birnbaum was away on national team duty, and newcomer Markus Halsti was just joining up with the team, Kofi Opare was receiving most of the minutes at center back alongside Bobby Boswell in Florida. And while it seemed Opare had the upper hand should Birnbaum not be ready to go to start the season, Olsen admitted that Halsti would get a look down in Austin.
"We also evaluated Halsti at the center back position. We will take a look at Markus in that position this camp, as Birnbaum is going to be on the sidelines a little bit. We are going to take a look at what he can do at center back."
Starting keeper Bill Hamid was not heard of during the team's time at the IMG Academy in Florida, which was attributed to him recovering from a shoulder issue, and a back injury that flared up. According to Olsen though, he's fully fit and ready to go.
"He had a little bit of a back issue. It doesn't just go away. But the shoulder seems fine, and we are looking to get him down in the warm weather before he starts going full out."
Olsen also spoke as to how he will switch strategies of practices and training once the team departs for Austin tomorrow:
"We will get away from the two-a-days now and focus on the games, and really maximize our effort. Not just from an effort standpoint, but from a rhythm standpoint now as well too. Early you have tired legs, so the quality in the games suffer. Now we want to start seeing some of that quality in the actual games. So we have to set them up to succeed with less long distance running and less work on their bodies."
The ATX Pro Challenge will be utilized by Olsen to evaluate players who are on the cusp of the team, and to get minutes for players like Luis Silva who are coming back from injury. But after the team is done in Austin, they will travel to Dallas for some more training and a friendly against FC Dallas, before heading off to Costa Rice for the Champions League game. It's in Dallas where Olsen plans to change gears and start solely focusing on the game.
"Once we get down to Dallas, I've planned it in a way that we can really start to focus in on that game and the opponent. In Austin, we are still evaluating who we have in camp, and making sure we keep the right guys around, while still getting some minutes and getting some of the new guys familiar with the core from last year. But once we get down to Dallas we will really start to tighten things up, and get into a good week of preparation, similar to how we would approach a MLS game.
ATX Pro Challenge is set to be streamed online by Austin Aztex, but United were unable to provide any additional information at the time, so we'll pass it along when we receive it. What do you think of Olsen's comments? What are you hoping to see from the team in Austin and Dallas?