DC goalkeeping coach encourages Travis Worra to seize rare opportunity

Travis Worra - DC United - save - Teal Bunbury - New England Revolution

WASHINGTON—D.C. United goalkeeper coach Zach Thornton believes Travis Worra and Charlie Horton should embrace a precious learning opportunity while starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid and immediate backup Andrew Dykstra are out injured. And that includes whatever mistakes they might commit in the heat of the MLS spotlight.

"They need to play in games, in high-level games, and not succeed," Thornton said. "Because that's sometimes the best teacher as well, when you make a mistake in a real game."

Before he evolved into a six-time MLS All-Star, Thornton spent his first two pro seasons as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) backup behind US World Cup star Tony Meola, playing in only six matches.

"I was just trying to learn the league, learn how to be a professional, learning from Tony," Thornton said. "And when I had a chance to play, just try my best."

It was enough to entice Bob Bradley and the Chicago Fire to select Thornton in the 1997 MLS Expansion Draft. By the early stages of the 1998 season, a strong performance in Colorado had convinced Bradley to pull the trigger and play Thornton ahead of another international standout, Mexico's Jorge Campos.

"Bob basically thanked me," Thornton recalled. "He said, ‘Now you can play. You're ready now. It's your team going forward.'

"I didn't expect. it. I was just kind of going through the season … And then when it happened, I was like, ‘Oh, this is good.'"

It's a mentality Worra and Horton may do well to adopt as they wait for the eventual return of Dykstra – who was ruled out 10-12 weeks after undergoing back surgery on March 17 – and in particular Hamid – likely out until the summer with a torn meniscus – whom Thornton believes is "the best goalie in the league."

That said, it's also a fine balance between being ready and being too tight. "I was never a person to put a ton of pressure on myself," Thornton said. "I always felt confident that I was doing the right things to prepare and train, so that when I got to the game, whatever's going to happen is going to happen."

Worra, 22, will make his third consecutive start Saturday against FC Dallas (5:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), said manager Ben Olsen. Thornton contends the second-year pro benefited immensely from loan appearances with the USL's Richmond Kickers last year.

"We saw something in him early in preseason last year," Thorton said. "Technically, he's come a long way. He's got the frame, he's long, he's lean. He's got athleticism. He's fearless. He's got a lot of those good traits."

Horton, 21, may still figure in before Hamid and Dykstra return. The former Leeds United man and US U-23 pool 'keeper only signed with the club in early March.

"We're excited to have Charlie on board," Thornton said. "He's got a lot of experience playing at a high level for his age."