WASHINGTON – When D.C. United travel north to Red Bull Arena for their final matchup of the season against New York (Saturday, 5 pm ET, NBC Sports), and first since April 13, they’ll be as close to healthy as they’ve been all season.
And aside from an ailing Chris Pontius, who continues to rehab from neural tension in his left leg, all of United’s key players could be on the field together at the site of their epic playoff victory last season.
They’ll also look significantly different than they did during the clubs’ last meeting – a 2-0 Red Bulls win – as Luis Silva, Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey have all made a difference in D.C. after being acquired in July.
While Silva and Doyle have made their mark by scoring goals (in a starting role and off the bench), Jeffrey turned in a superb shift against Toronto last weekend in a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium.
“I was very happy with Jared, overall,” said United coach Ben Olsen. “He’s getting fitter, so he’s able to cover more ground, which is allowing him to help us out offensively. That’s something we’ve been missing.”
The 23-year-old Jeffrey’s progression playing alongside Perry Kitchen in central midfield has served as a welcome sight. United have lacked depth at that spot all year, especially with nagging injuries bothering Marcelo Saragosa and Lewis Neal for most of the season, and with John Thorrington in and out of the lineup.
“Being here for a while, you really get the feel of how things are done. It takes some time to not just get acquainted with the guys, but also getting fit,” Jeffrey said. “I think we’re definitely coming along better. But you don’t want to get complacent.”
One of the more impressive elements of Jeffrey’s performance against Toronto was his ability to win balls in the midfield and quickly start the counterattack. In four starts for United, Jeffrey has logged 349 minutes and taken five shots and scored one goal.
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“He’s a hard worker. He covers a lot of ground and picks up a lot of balls for us in the midfield, winning big tackles,” said United midfielder Nick DeLeon. “I think he and Johnny [Thorrington are] both good options to have in there. He’s contributed a lot of good things to this team so far and has been a good addition.”
Whether Jeffrey will be in Olsen’s starting XI or Thorrington is healthy enough to start remains to be seen, but regardless of who plays, United will look to build momentum leading up to the US Open Cup final on Oct. 1.
“I believe in them and I’m excited for the weekend, going up to New York and try to play a little bit of a spoiler role,” Olsen said. “They’re very good at home. Their away record hasn’t been that great, but they’re a very, very tough team to play at home. We’ll have to be ready.”