You hear it all the time. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. That described United captain Ryan Nelsen's recent experience with the New Zealand men's national team to a tee. Nelsen returned to training with D.C. United this week, fresh off duty with the "All-Whites" in the Oceania Nations Cup.
New Zealand opened play in the Nations Cup - which also serves as the World Cup qualifying tournament for the Oceania Football Confederation - with a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Australia. They recovered to send the Solomon Islands to a 3-0 defeat, as expected. Then Lady Luck decided to crash the party.
"It was just one of those games," said Nelsen. "We had so many chances that we didn't put away. We hit the crossbar, the post, anything and everything."
New Zealand managed to pot two goals from their 12 good chances. Vanuatu, on the other hand, were deadly accurate. The small island nation has only been affiliated with FIFA since 1988, and the team finished dead last in the tournament. But they connected on every one of their four shots.
"[On one goal], the ball came out to [the Vanuatu player] and he shaped to just smash it," recalled Nelsen. "If he would have hit it correctly, it would have hit the corner flag and gone into the stands, but he sliced it so bad the shot wound up going into the upper corner of our net." New Zealand bounced back from the upset, trouncing Tahiti 10-0. Nelsen would tally a goal in the 83rd minute of the drubbing, but in the end the All-Whites' fate rested in the hands of the Solomon Islands. The tiny island nation fought valiantly against Australia, earning a 2-2 draw, thus guaranteeing New Zealand a seat on the couch for Germany 2006.
Despite the disappointment, Nelsen is ready to return to the Black-and-Red. Even after playing three games in the space of five days while self-admittedly not at 100 percent fitness, United's captain is hungry to be back.
"I definitely want to play [this weekend]," said Nelsen. "I've got lots of little things kind of annoying me, but I can't wait to get back."
Nowak is confident in his team
With all of the recent injuries and absences that have struck D.C. United, one thing has remained constant. Head Coach Peter Nowak remains confident in his team.
"I'm never going to complain, because I believe in this team," said head coach Peter Nowak. "I am very proud to be the coach of this team."
Nowak's pride is evidenced through his passion. He leads training sessions with a strong hand and loud voice, but is every bit as involved as the players. Along with Tom Soehn and Mark Simpson, he takes an active role as player/coach in several scrimmages a week.
"[The coaching staff's] message is clear," said Nowak. "We are going to do whatever we can to make this team the best possible. We are not going to start looking for excuses."
Martins' injury woes to continue?
Toward the end of United's practice session on Tuesday, Thiago Martins went down on his surgically reconstructed left knee during a training drill. Martins underwent several tests this afternoon under the supervision of Dr. William Hazel, and will soon undergo an MRI. Results from the tests are not yet available.
Martins was nearing the end of his recovery from a torn ACL, suffered in 2003. He had recently returned to full training with the Black-and-Red, and was expected to be available for selection in Saturday's match.
United welcomes new trialist
Joining United at training today was a new trialist from the Virginia Beach Mariners. Roland Aguilera, cousin of Jaime Moreno, played for Columbus during the 2000 and 2001 seasons before being traded to the New England Revolution. Nana Kuffour continues to train with the Black-and-Red. The Ghanaian trialist is still waiting to receive the international clearances necessary to join D.C. United full time.
John Roushkolb is a contributor to dcunited.com. His column runs every Tuesday.