United's ever-changing lineup will continue to shift, presumably for the better, as injured players return and the club looks to bring in new pieces.
Three trialists joined the Black and Red during Tuesday's training session. Among them, defender/midfielder Jesjua Angoy Cruijff, grandson of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff and highly touted American striker Mike Grella. Grella played for Duke University and was drafted by Toronto FC in 2009 but declined for a chance to play abroad with Leeds United. Grella is currently in the middle of a two-year contract with Scunthorpe United and is coming off a disappointing debut season in which Scunthorpe was relegated to League Two last month. Rounding our the trio is Peter Gregory, a defender who Ben Olsen says "has promise" and most recently played for Nottingham Forest.
The three will train with United for the remainder of the week.
"We're gonna see a lot of guys come through this door," said Olsen. "It's a tough task over a couple days to make decisions on guys for the positive because you don't see them in big games but you never know."
Nick DeLeon played his first full 90 since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined the midfielder for four matches. Asked to step into a more offensive role at center midfield against Sporting KC, DeLeon responded well with a shot on goal in the opening minutes. Olsen praised DeLeon's play after the match and continued to do so on Tuesday.
"It was filling a gap but I thought he filled it in very nicely and when you do that you now have options moving forward. Nick's one of those kids, who I feel comfortable plugging in anywhere on the field except center back. He's just one of those guys who kind of gets it and I just look forward to him being on the field consistently for us."
Another player Olsen is looking forward to having back on the pitch is Chris Pontius, who described himself as feeling "rusty" after his return from a groin injury that sidelined the midfielder for three games. Despite the apparent rust, Pontius added his second assist of the season on a beautiful delivery to Kyle Porter that notched United's game-tying goal.
John Thorrington also appears ready to return to DCU's desperate front lines for Saturday's home match against Portland (4-1-7).
Thorrington started in D.C.'s first two games, teeing up the winning goal in United's lone win of the season against Real Salt Lake, before suffering an MCL injury just moments later, which knocked him out of the last nine matches. After a full week of practice, Thorrington was a game-time decision last Sunday.
"It was kind of touch and go for Sunday's game and we decided not to risk it but hopefully I've ironed the kinks out now," said Thorrington who says he feels good on the fitness side of things. "My knee feels great. We'll build up another week of practice and see for Saturday."
Thorrington met with Olsen and trainers a few hours before Sunday's match when the decision was made to rest the midfielder another week. For the ninth consecutive match, Thorrington did not dress for the game.
"I appreciate the trust that Ben and the staff have in me," said Thorrington. "I know my body but where I need help is that I have a tendency to want to do too much too soon. You get impatient and you want to help your team and you kind of can lose a bit of objectivity in there and it helps. We spoke a few hours before the game on Sunday, went back and forth and he said that we wouldn't do it Sunday but build for this weekend. It helps that the guys got a point, which hopefully proves to be a step in the right direction moving forward."
Forward Rafael may also be close to making a comeback as well. The first-year Brazilian striker has missed two matches due to a concussion suffered during a training session.
"He ran into one of our goalkeepers," said Olsen. "I bet you can guess which one that put an impact on him. It was on a challenge ... I think he took a boot to the head. He'll be back hopefully in a couple days. Hopefully we see him this week at training."
Rafael is currently day-to-day until he passes baseline tests.
"There's a lot to work on with this group," Olsen said of his 1-8-2 squad that at -14 has the highest goal differential in the league. "A consistent lineup at some point will help us but we haven't had that luxury. We're a quarter of the way through the season and we're still tinkering with what we have. Part of that's injury. Part of that's guys who have been out of form early and we're looking at bringing in fresh blood so all of these things have contributed to us not getting a consistent lineup but hopefully in the next few weeks we can narrow something down that we can really build on."