WASHINGTON — Throughout D.C. United's 2-1 loss in a friendly to Ajax on Sunday, defender Brandon Barklage could hardly forget about the past.
Almost exactly a year ago, on May 26, Barklage played in a friendly against AC Milan and tore his ACL for the second year in a row. The injury ended his season.
“It was on my mind the entire time [against Ajax] because it’s a game that doesn’t mean anything, and I got injured in it last year,” Barklage told MLSsoccer.com.
Since D.C. United drafted him prior to the 2009 season, Barklage has yet to establish himself at the club because of injuries. His rookie season was cut short after he tore his ACL in a US Open Cup quarterfinal against the Harrisburg City Islanders in July.
Then, he repeated the injury against AC Milan not even a year later.
However, he's worked his way back both times and even started this preseason not under contract, though he finally signed a deal at the beginning of the regular season. The club also switched him from midfield to right back, where he played against Ajax for most of the game.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: D.C. United vs. Ajax
Getting game time at right back, as he did against Ajax, is a vital part of Barklage’s learning curve at a new spot. United head coach Ben Olsen is confident the third-year defender has the work ethic to make the adjustment.
“Barklage is a very hard worker and he is in a position where he is still learning,” Olsen said. “He still only has four or five real games in that position. It takes time, but the one thing you know you are always getting with Brandon is the work."
Against Ajax, Barklage struggled in the game’s first 15 minutes against the Dutch club’s 4-3-3 and was partially at fault for the first goal DC conceded. But after a shaky opening, he settled in, looking dangerous on a couple of occasions in the offensive third.
He was unlucky not to score a gorgeous goal, sweetly striking a shot from 30 yards out that Ajax ‘keeper Kenneth Vermeer just managed to prevent finding the upper corner of the net.
“I just took one touch and hit it,” he said of the shot. “The goalie made a great save, but obviously I wished it would have gone in.”
Barklage finished the game in midfield after Rodrigo Brasesco came on in the second half. After coming through Sunday’s game without injury, his next goal is to finish the season with a clean bill of health – and possibly earn some minutes with the first team along the way.
“It feels good to be one hundred percent healthy, that’s all I can ask for,” Barklage said. “I just have to stay healthy, that’s my goal for the rest of this year, hopefully crack into the top 18, get starting here and there.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.