WASHINGTON — With the announcement on Wednesday that D.C. United midfielder Andy Najar would join the Honduran Under-23 national team for the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament, it became crystal clear that manager Ben Olsen would be forced into some early-season lineup juggling.
While some MLS teams will miss a player or two to the qualifiers, United will lose three starters for the duration of the qualifying tournament, which runs from March 22 until April 2.
Najar will travel with United to Los Angeles for D.C.'s game on Sunday against the Galaxy (7 pm ET; Galavision) before he meets up with his Honduran teammates. However, goalkeeper Bill Hamid and midfielder Perry Kitchen have already left the squad to join up with the US Olympic team, and will miss the next three games for United.
“It’s not ideal for them to leave right away,” Olsen told MLSsoccer.com. “But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to qualify and have a memorable time at the Olympics.”
Unlike some of the other players who will represent their countries at the qualifying tournament, all three of United’s players are of the “first name on the team sheet” variety, and have contributed to the United cause all over the pitch.
Thus, it'll be a short-handed D.C. team that will face the Galaxy, who are also looking to right their ship after their First Kick weekend stumble against Real Salt Lake and Wednesday's shocking elimination in the CONCACAF Champions League to Toronto FC.
The natural replacement for Hamid is Joe Willis, now in his second season with the Black-and-Red. Last year, Willis appeared three times in league play, posting a win and a clean sheet while conceding four goals.
But with Kitchen and Najar out, Olsen doesn’t have the luxury of tried-and-tested backups, meaning he will likely turn to several new faces to the United squad to help fill in.
Olsen has taken the time though, knowing that this exact situation would arise, to prepare for the departure of his three starlets.
“There’s always going to be call-ups, whether it’s the full team or the Olympic team,” Olsen said. “It’s nothing we didn’t know about a year ago, and nothing we haven’t had time to prepare for.”