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Healthy D.C. United looking for fresh start after Gold Cup break

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The Black-and-Red have 15 games remaining to erase poor start to 2017

Even though Bill Hamid is off with the US national team for the Gold Cup, there was a welcomed sight to D.C. United’s practice on Tuesday. After a few days off following last week’s 4-2 loss to FC Dallas, reconvened for practice this week, the Black-and-Red are as healthy as they’ve been this year. With a week before their next match - a trip to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Sounders - just about everyone was in attendance at Tuesday’s practice, fully participating. A promising prospect, considering how many injuries D.C. has dealt with in 2017.

“I have two pretty good teams of 11 out there,” head coach Ben Olsen told B&RU after yesterday’s practice. “It’s nice to see, and obviously, I’ll have a sleepless night or two on who our best group is right now. That’s healthy stuff.”

Three of the longest suffering injured players this year seem ready to return to action. Rob Vincent has been out since March, first having knee surgery, then having to deal with blood clots related to that procedure. Nick DeLeon has been out since mid-April after hernia surgery. And Sean Franklin hasn’t appeared in a league game since May 6th, dealing with a hamstring strain.

All three players are back raining at 100% now, though, and even Patrick Mullins - who had to have surgery on a torn meniscus back in the beginning of June - was working on the side during practice. That indicates that it will still be a couple of weeks before he’ll don the Black-and-Red once again. However, Olsen indicated that the striker is ahead of schedule.

“He’s moving in the right direction. He’s doing a little bit more than we thought at this point,” Olsen said of Mullins, who has yet to score a goal this year while dealing with two different injuries. “We’ll keep pushing him along, and when he’s ready, he’s ready.”

Now the goal for United, as healthy as they are, is to forget what happened in the first 19 games of the season. The 19 games that left United last in the Supporters’ Shield race. The 19 games that yielded just 14 goals scored, leaving D.C. 10 points adrift from the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re putting that first half of the season behind us, and pushing the reset button and getting back to some of our core values,” said Olsen.

One thing that might help United, especially with the process of bringing Deshorn Brown up to speed amid the return of several possible starters, is being able to get back to practicing once again. The glut of games to end June and start July limited the amount of time United had to work with each other to improve.

Players had to have rest days, and United also had to study up on upcoming opponents. When you’re in a stretch of one game every three days, there isn’t much time to work out any on the field issues in training. And though United restart the season with a Wednesday-Saturday slate, with games on both coasts, a return to a game a week is in the cards, which will allow the Black-and-Red more time on the training field.

“It’s nice to have training sessions right now,” Olsen said to B&RU. “It seems like we haven’t had a lot of training sessions to push our identity and get better, and further along our relationships. It’s a crucial time for us to build and compete.”

Those training sessions might also help incorporate any new players United brings in during the transfer window. The secondary window officially opened on Monday, and Olsen has stated in recent weeks that the team plan on bringing in players to give United’s season a boost.

On Tuesday, other than Hamid’s absence, the only other player missing on Tuesday was Jose Ortiz, who is on loan from Herediano. The Costa Rican only has two goals with United this season, the second of which game in last month’s loss to the New England Revolution in the US Open Cup.

A move to bring in a new player might require a complimentary move, with the termination of Ortiz’s loan a common talking point for fans and observers. Ortiz takes up a senior roster spot as well as an international spot, the latter of which are all currently occupied. Olsen wouldn’t say though that a move is imminent, though the Black-and-Red are definitely busy at work trying to make moves to get back to the MLS playoffs.

“This stuff is fluid. We’re working long hours to try to get this team better,” Olsen told B&RU about the process in bringing in new players. “It’s a very fluid process. You don’t understand it unless you’re in it. You have leads, and you have guys [you want], but there’s a lot of factors to these signings. We think we can get better in the short term, and we’re working hard to do that.”