Trade talk has been floating in the breezes swirling around RFK Stadium this week, adding a rare dose of intrigue to D.C. United's normal practice routine ahead of an enticing home matchup with FC Dallas on Saturday.
United dealt Mike Petke to the Colorado Rapids over the weekend and finally completed the transaction on Wednesday by sending Chris Henderson to Columbus for part of an allocation.
Reports of Dema Kovalenko's departure seem to have been exaggerated, however, and the hard-charging midfielder might be called upon to make his first start of the year against a Dallas side that has lost several key players to injury and national team call-ups, but still presents myriad attacking threats.
"Yeah, maybe it's the time," said Kovalenko. "I'm ready, and I hope (the coaches) think I'm ready too. This is a very good team this week, probably the best team in the league right now. This is going to be a good task for us, a good challenge, and a good task for me, to see where I am."
Coach Peter Nowak will feel fortunate to possess the deep midfield he does, possessing quality options despite having Josh Gros lost to suspension and the absence of Clyde Simms due to a U.S. national team call-up.
Without Gros and Steve Guppy, who continues to fight Achilles tendonitis, United is short on true wingers. But Kovalenko has roamed the flanks before, as has youngster Freddy Adu, who will don the Black-and-Red for the last time for at least three weeks on Saturday. Adu will leave D.C. on June 1 to join the U.S. U-20 national team in preparation for next month's FIFA World Youth Championships in Holland.
Adu is a natural choice on the left, while Kovalenko, Ben Olsen or Santino Quaranta are all possibilities for the right wing - keeping in mind that Nowak could scramble everything by sticking with the modified 4-3-3 style he successfully debuted last week against Kansas City.
Brian Carroll should keep his holding midfielder spot, though Nowak might pair him with Olsen or Kovalenko in hopes of providing cover against FC Dallas' deadly striker corps. Even without Eddie Johnson, the visitors should create plenty of chances through Carlos Ruiz and Ronnie O'Brien, who will not likely be thrilled to see his old nemesis Kovalenko back on the field.
D.C. netminder Nick Rimando has seen marked improvement in his defensive line after a rough start to the season, but he nonetheless expects to stay busy on Saturday night.
"Definitely," said Rimando. "They have two of the best strikers in this league - they've proven it again this year. But I think we're getting better and better each game, defensively. If we can just not let in those soft goals, we'll be fine."
Without question, both of K.C.'s tallies last week qualify as "soft" - Bobby Boswell's own goal and Scott Sealy's simple finish after Rimando spilled a long ball. But Rimando praised the rookie center back for his rapid progress and uncanny levelheadedness.
"I don't think it was so much Bobby's fault, it was the field's fault," said Rimando. "It took a bad bounce on him. But what are you going to do? I think the team covered him, and made sure his head was up and not down, and he played well the rest of the game.
"He's a different rookie than (those) I've ever played with. He's really composed. He knows when he's done something wrong, and he's not hard on himself."
United knows the importance of eliminating such errors, which could prove disastrous against an explosive side like FC Dallas.
"We know what their strength is," said Nowak. "We know what their last couple of games have been. We just want to make sure that we're ready for this game, to make sure that the mistakes we made against Kansas City, we're not going to repeat."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.