WASHINGTON — A weekend without an MLS match usually means a weekend of rest. But for D.C. United, it’s business as usual as they prepare to face recently crowned Eredivisie champions Ajax Amsterdam.
It’s a challenge to which DC players are looking forward.
“These games are fun,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “It’s always fun to play a big team like that. I don’t know what the lineup’s going to be like, but I always look forward to those games.”
When the two sides meet Sunday, it will be one week to the day since Ajax clinched their first Eredivisie title since the 2003-04 season, and the first time the two teams play each other. It won’t, however, be Ajax’s first visit to RFK, as they played a friendly against the US national team in DC way back in 1990.
While Ajax may not feature some of the biggest names in international soccer, a travel roster was released Thursday that includes members of the Netherlands national team, beaten finalists in the 2010 World Cup. Maarten Stekelenburg, André Ooijer, Gregory van der Wiel, Demy de Zeeuw, and rising talents like Nicolás Lodeiro and Jan Vertonghen highlight the list.
From DC’s perspective, taking part in a non-league match is a chance for players to test themselves against a European club, as well send out a number of younger guys who haven’t seen much time on the field in league play.
“I think we talk about this every year, that it’s a chance for a lot of our young guys to experience a top European team [and] enjoy it,” midfielder Santino Quaranta said. “If some guys have to rest, it’s good, too. We take these serious, they’re fun for the fans, fun for everybody.”
Two players who’ll be taking advantage of the time to rest are Charlie Davies and Josh Wolff. The club announced earlier this week that the striker duo would sit out the game, as they continue to nurse injuries picked up in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Colorado.
Coming away from Sunday’s game with no further injury problems is priority one for the coaching staff.
“From a coach’s perspective, you just want to get out of if it without injuries,” assistant coach Chad Ashton said.
Given the friendly nature of the meeting, it won’t quite have the intensity of a regular season match, but DC want to put their best foot forward and won’t take this encounter lightly.
“It’s going to be a big game, you don’t want to go out there and get embarrassed,” Jakovic said.
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.