Beefed-up Jakovic enjoying bright return for United

WASHINGTON — D.C. United defender Dejan Jakovic was able to make the most out of an unfortunate situation this summer.

The Canadian international suffered a hamstring injury back on June 1 that ended up keeping him out until the end of July. But instead of lamenting the setback, the 26-year-old hit the weight room to bulk up what he could work on — his upper body.

The hard work particularly paid off against the Vancouver Whitecaps last weekend, as Jakovic and the rest of DC’s defense kept giant striker Eric Hassli off the score sheet in a 4-0 win for DC.

It’s a performance the coaching staff wants to see on a weekly basis.

“We’ve preached to Dejan about being the guy he was against Vancouver every week for us,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “Because when he does that — why not put him [up there] as one of the best center backs in this league?”

The coach feels like Jakovic has turned a corner in 2011.

HIGHLIGHTS: DC 4, VAN 0
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“The problem over the last couple of years is he’s had some ups and downs,” Olsen said. “This year, he’s taken a step forward mentally. I think he’s preparing better for games.”

His return to action against Vancouver was his third game back in the starting lineup and so far, so good. Pairing with Brandon McDonald, the team has allowed three goals in Jakovic’s three games back — all three coming in the game against Toronto with DC playing down a man for 83 minutes.

Jakovic is happy with how he’s coped in his return to action.

“I feel great,” he said. “I think I’ve been doing well. The whole team has been doing well, which is the most important thing.”

Coming back also required playing with a new partner in the middle of DC’s back line. While Jakovic was out, the team went out and acquired McDonald, another veteran who brings a physical presence as well as some vocal leadership.

The two have played together in all three games, and early returns are bright.

“I like playing with him. Our communication has been great,” Jakovic said. “We just haven’t been allowing goals, other than the Toronto game. We both feel comfortable with each other.”

Jakovic and McDonald will get to put that to the test again on Thursday, when DC travel to Chicago to face the Fire (9 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.