Health returning as United head west

though memorably hot -- MLS All-Star weekend, D.C. United now returns to regular season action with three games in seven days, beginning with a West Coast trip to visit the always-dangerous San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.

Reflecting the discipline-oriented approach of coach Peter Nowak, the Black-and-Red have trained with exceptional intensity this week, including a marathon session on Tuesday that had one player vomiting.

Coach Nowak's disappointment was evident -- it seems he had actually been hoping for better numbers in that category. The squad's work rate set a fine example for attendees of the Elite Academy, the club's top-level youth camp, under the tutelage of John Harkes.

Barring major setbacks, United will welcome two vital players back from injury on Saturday, as veteran midfielders Earnie Stewart and Ben Olsen are listed as "probables" for the match. After three weeks of rest and rehab, Stewart should be able to overcome a groin strain and return to his customary spot on the right wing.

Olsen has been working his way back from a nagging quadriceps strain. After working out with the Eastern Conference All-Star team last Friday and looking strong in training this week, he describes himself as "90 to 95 percent" recovered.

"Everything's pretty good," says Olsen, "though I could always use a little more fitness.

"There's still a little bit of a knot in my leg, but once we get that out of there with massage and other stuff, it will hopefully be an injury that doesn't bother me any more this season."

The defense will still be undermanned, with Ryan Nelsen recovering from hernia surgery, and a quadriceps injury keeping Mike Petke from making the trip to San Jose. That leaves Nowak with a back four including Ezra Hendrickson and Bryan Namoff, along with Brandon Prideaux and David Stokes, should he choose to again go that route as he did in the 5-1 loss to Dallas two weekends ago.

With Nick Rimando sidelined by recent knee surgery, United is short of cover between the posts, though the steady play of starter Troy Perkins should render the issue moot, and the rookie is quietly confident about the season's stretch run.

"Now everyone's at 0-0. You're facing a whole new season in the second half," he said. "You've got to go out and prove that you're the best team in the league. I think that we can be."

Olsen recognizes the importance of returning to form quickly.

"San Jose is going to be tough, but we need points," he says. "We haven't done very well on the road. We need to start getting as many points as we can on the road and take care of business at home."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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