WASHINGTON — Sweat poured down their faces. Their arms and legs glistened under the sweltering Saturday morning sun. And at times, tempers flared.
During a break in the action, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid squirted water on a group of players and insisted: “Keep going. Push through.”
In their first morning back at training following a four-day break, D.C. United were greeted with temperatures in the upper 90s on a day where the heat index in the nation's capital reached 111 degrees.
“Obviously the weather isn’t ideal, but it’s one of those things you’ve got to fight through,” said defender Brandon McDonald (above). "That’s what builds champions."
The heat marked an unpleasant return to RFK’s training facilities for many players who used the four-day respite to visit friends and family or vacation. McDonald went home to Phoenix, where temperatures also reached triple digits, but, he said, “100 degrees there makes it feel like 70 degrees compared to here. I’ll take dry heat over humidity any day of the week.”
Rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon, meanwhile, escaped to Miami.
“I hung out on the beach, got some sun, relaxed. Got my mind off soccer for a little bit,” DeLeon said. “I feel like you need that as a player. To totally let your mind go and just live. It came at a good time.”
Even United head coach Ben Olsen used the time off to step away from the pitch. Though the part about taking his mind off soccer proved a bit more difficult.
“I went to the beach with my family and tried to put soccer away for a couple days, which is never easy to do,” Olsen said. “But it was really enjoyable. As a player, I would have looked for five or six days. As a coach, I try to give them a break, but if you give them too many days off, you start to lose fitness and rhythm. I think we found a good balance.”
Upon returning Saturday morning, Olsen participated in nearly all the team’s drills and pushed his players through the extreme temperatures and rustiness.
Noticeable on the field for Eastern-conference-leading D.C. were forward Long Tan in his second practice with the side, U-18 Academy midfielder Collin Martin and midfielder Branko Boskovic, who recently re-signed with the team.
Playing in the intense heat this week ultimately could prove to be a positive for United, who travel to Houston next Sunday for their first match in 15 days.
“It’s never fun, but it’s part of D.C. summers," Olsen said. "It’s a fitness check and it’s also a mental check. Emotions do some funny things when you start playing in 100-degree weather. You’re losing a lot of water and your though process starts to go. This should prepare us for Houston.”