WASHINGTON – D.C. United’s second trip of their 2012 preseason brought one rookie close to home.
Nick DeLeon, D.C.’s first-round SuperDraft pick this year, grew up near Phoenix, and he’ll get the chance for an early homecoming when United set up camp this week in nearby Scottsdale.
“I think we’re staying about 10 minutes from my house,” DeLeon (above right) said. “The practice field, same thing, about 10 minutes from my house.”
DeLeon, a highly rated left midfielder out of Louisville, received high praise from head coach Ben Olsen and general manager Dave Kasper in a press conference Monday morning.
“We were lucky to get him,” Olsen said. “He’s a great kid with great soccer instincts. That’s what we saw when we scouted him, [he] knows how to play the position. Looking forward to him helping out [here].”
Added Kasper: “[DeLeon] was our top target in this year’s draft. Benny and I did quite a bit of scouting with Chad [Ashton] and Pat [Onstad]. We all saw him and he was our guy.”
Of course, the trip to Arizona will be much more than a chance for him to see friends and family. DeLeon only started training with the club last week after entering preseason carrying a quad strain suffered at the MLS Combine.
However, he’s now fully recovered, even going 35 minutes in D.C.’s 1-1 draw with Malmö last Thursday. Slowly but surely, he’s making the adjustment to the pace of the professional game.
“I would say the biggest thing was how quickly you make your decisions,” he said. “You get closed down a lot faster, so you’ve got to think steps ahead. I think that’s the biggest adjustment for me.”
DeLeon won’t be the only one making an Arizona homecoming at this camp. Midfielder Danny Cruz, another new face, hails from nearby Glendale. The pair will battle for playing time this year on the flanks along with Chris Pontius and Andy Najar. The prospect of a fight for minutes doesn’t faze the rookie.
“It’s a lot of competition,” he said. “I’m just going to control what I can control, go out every day, work as hard as I can, get better every day.”