Ben Olsen, head coach of DC United
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Optimism reigns in D.C. United's preseason

WASHINGTON – Every preseason camp in MLS is usually accompanied with a tinge of optimism, and the vibe around D.C. United is no different as preparations for 2011 get underway.

Players reported for preseason last Friday and, after a weekend of fitness testing and physicals, began training indoors at the Greenbelt Sportsplex in Maryland on Monday.

The team will spend time in the nation’s capital for just this week, alternating between indoor training session at the Sportsplex and working out at a local gym. Next week, they will head to Florida for the first of three preseason trips that will also include stops in Southern California and South Carolina.

After one of DC’s worst-ever seasons last year, the desire to bounce back is evident in a club that seems to enter every year with lofty goals. To achieve that, the hard work begins now.

“It’s going to be a lot of physical and mental work in the preseason to get us where we need to be,” head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com.

New faces are abundant at this early point in preseason as the team’s 30-man roster takes shape. Josh Wolff, a 12-season MLS veteran and two-time US World Cup representative joins Dax McCarty and Joseph Ngwenya as one of many new acquisitions charged with leading a turnaround.

[inline_node:325362]They will be thrust onto a team that is carrying over only 15 players from the end of last year. Those include reigning Rookie of the Year Andy Najar, midfielders Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta, Clyde Simms, and defenders Marc Burch and Dejan Jakovic.

Interspersed with those established team stalwarts are roster hopefuls, such as well-traveled striker Abe Thompson, draft picks Chris Korb and Blake Brettschneider, and training camp invitee Brandon Barklage.

Bringing a roster – an extremely young one, with an average age of 24 – together and turning them into a cohesive team is the primary goal in preseason, and getting everyone on the same page quickly is something a veteran like Wolff knows is crucial to achieve success in MLS.

“Just the general atmosphere, the chemistry within the group is huge in MLS,” he said. “Probably more so in our league than most other leagues because our talent level is still growing.

“Where we are technically and tactically as a country and a league is growing and still evolving, so I think the way guys interact on and off the field are huge, huge things you can work on and make sure is right because those things translate out on the field.”

It’s typical for new players to be brought in during preseason. Coaches and technical staffs like to tinker with new looks, utilizing different personnel in various ways and, most importantly, achieving success once the year gets started.

However, significant change was inevitable in DC after last year’s subpar season.

With the lengthy nature of preseason, it gives players a chance to mesh and come together. They’ll spend several hours of down time staying in hotels in various parts of the country, scrimmaging different teams and deepening those relationships.

“When you’re seeing the guys every day on and off the field, you get to know the player better,” Pontius said.

After the week wraps up in DC, the team travels to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and will ramp things up. Olsen and his charges know the task ahead of them is tall, but after a few days, the optimism lingers.

“We’re a new group so we have to come together as quick as possible, and I think we can do it,” he said. “The guys’ energy and their spirit is very good so far.”