With the performance and late game histrionics against the New York Red Bulls in the rear view mirror, D.C. United hit the newly laid turf practice field on Tuesday, in anticipation of this weekend's visit from their old Eastern Conference sparring partner, the Houston Dynamo.
Markus Halsti, United's marquee signing this winter from Malmo, took part in his first training exercise since picking up an injury this preseason, joining the team in a passing exercise before returning to work on his fitness. Though he is still biding his time before coming back, being able to finally participate in practice in a big step forward for the Finnish midielder.
In addition, Nick DeLeon, who was absent against the New York Red Bulls, was back with the team after picking up a hamstring issue two weeks ago against Orlando City.
"Friday, we decided it was best to leave him out. Maybe we could have gutted through it," United manager Ben Olsen told B&RU on Tuesday. "But we don't gut through hamstring pain around here. It's cost us when we have, so we're a little gun shy with that."
With DeLeon out injured, Fabian Espindola still suspended, and Luis Silva not 90 minutes fit yet, United still managed to turn in their best performance to date this year against the Metros. But after taking a 2-0 lead in the second half, United conceded immediately after the second, before allowing the equalizer in the last minute of the game.
"Pretty good performance from us overall. Some of the things we wanted to fix and work on were there. So there was a lot of good, but the way we managed the game wasn't good enough," Olsen added.
United will also have to manage this week of practice without two regular starters, keeper Bill Hamid and midfielder Perry Kitchen. Both are away with the US national team, who will play Mexico on Wednesday night in San Antonio. And while Hamid's call up was known about several days before the New York game, the team didn't find out about Kitchen until late Sunday night.
But as Michael Orozco's Puebla team refused to release him, United General Manager Dave Kasper took a call from Jurgen Klinsmann's camp, requesting Kitchen's presence. Despite getting notification late, and not being obligated to release players during a non FIFA international date, Olsen wasn't going to prevent Kitchen from joining the team.
"Any time any of our guys get to go in with the full team it's a great thing," said Olsen. "It being a Mexico game is even better. They are a lot of fun, and they are special. Every time we play Mexico they are special events. Hopefully they get to be a part of it."
With Kitchen and Hamid unlikely to play full 90 minute shifts for Klinsmann's side, United expect the pair, who will return to the team on Friday, to be ready to go for this weekend's visit from the Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo, coming off a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact, currently sit in sixth place in the Western Conference, with eight points from their first six games.
Last season, United won two out of three against the Dynamo, including their first ever victory in Houston, a 3-1 triumph in October. And despite Houston being led by Owen Coyle and not Dom Kinnear, United are preparing for a team that has always given them trouble through the years.
"They are always a team that we have good battles with," Chris Pontius said. "Up until last year we had never won in Houston. They always give us a good game, always a good team, and they're coming off a good result as well."