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Steve Birnbaum may be back for D.C. United, but injury list remains long

Seven players missed training due to various knocks and strains

As D.C. United took to the practice field on Tuesday, looking to shake off the disappointment of the 1-0 loss to the Montreal Impact, there was a considerable contingent of players absent from training. Seven members of the first team were unavailable to practice on Tuesday, a considerable list considering five of them had started at least one game this season.

During his weekly media scrum, head coach Ben Olsen had listed off the statuses of so many players who were on the mend, that he added in himself for a bit of good news.

“I’m fine, physically,” Olsen joked with reporters. “I feel great.”

The absentees on Tuesday were as follows: Bill Hamid, Sean Franklin, Nick DeLeon, Patrick Nyarko, Julian Buescher, Rob Vincent, and Eric Klenofsky.

Not all the news was bad though.

Hamid, who was a late scratch for the Montreal game, dealing with a groin injury picked up in the win against Atlanta United, is expected to return to practice tomorrow. Though that’s a similar situation as last week, when Hamid started practicing halfway through the week, only to then be lifted, with Travis Worra taking his place in goal.

In addition, Steve Birnbaum was once again a full participant in today’s practice. He’s cleared the concussion protocol, but whether he starts this weekend against the Philadelphia Union is still to be determined.

“He’s fine,” Olsen said of his center back. “Birnbaum was all in today. We’ll continue to see where he’s at later in the week.”

The rest of the walking wounded seem like an outside shot at best to play this weekend against the Union. Sean Franklin and Julian Buescher were the newest names on the list, though Franklin played a full 90 minutes against Montreal, while Buescher seemed to also be a late removal from the bench.

“[Franklin] has some hamstring tightness that we have to see where that leads,” Olsen said.

Meanwhile, Buescher seems set to be out for at least a couple of weeks, with tendinitis in his left knee.

“[Buescher] has tendinitis in his knee. And we’re going to shut him down,” said Olsen. “And make sure that when he does come back, he doesn’t have any setbacks. It’s something that he’s been dealing on and off with for a little bit.”

At the same time, the trio of Vincent, Nyarko, and DeLeon, all out since at least the middle of April, are in various stages of making their way back to the team. But don’t expect any of them within the next two weeks, the final two weeks of United’s three game homestand.

“Nyarko is running. So he’s a little bit away, but he’s moving in the right direction,” said Olsen. “Rob [Vincent] is moving in the right direction. A lot of guys moving in the right direction. [Nick DeLeon] is moving in the right direction.”

That list of injuries has United with barely enough players to fill out a match day squad of 18. In fact, against Montreal, United had just six players on the bench, once the decision to withdraw Buescher was made.

Assuming Birnbaum and Hamid can play this weekend, with Franklin potentially out, that leaves United with 20 healthy bodies on the roster. But would Chris Korb, who played with the Richmond Kickers last weekend, be brought into the team? Then there’s a possibility of having Jalen Robinson, Chris Odoi-Atsem, and Korb on the bench for the game, but there’s not much need for three defensive subs.

Alhaji Kamara, who hasn’t yet appeared for United this season, could be another option. But with Patrick Mullins back and healthy enough to start, there doesn’t seem to be room for Kamara.

The final option would be Chris Durkin, who returned to practice with United on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after he played 90 minutes for the US U-17 team against Mexico in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship game. Durkin, who was named to the tournament’s Best XI, has also yet to appear in a game for United this year, spending his time with the Kickers when he isn’t with the U-17 team.

The plan for Durkin is to still give him minutes playing with Richmond, the type of experience he needs at the tender age of 17 if he isn’t going to be starter with the Black-and-Red. But if Olsen needs him in the lineup or on the bench, there appears to be no hesitancy in making that call.

“We’re going to still continue to try to get him games. And stick with the plan,” Olsen told reporters on Tuesday about Durkin. “But we’re also banged up. If his number is called, we’re okay to put him into a game, and we feel good about it, and excited about it.”