The starting goalkeeper, the best defender, the top winger, the die-hard midfielder and a main attacker are improving. The first-choice striker hurts and his likely successor just started training this week.

Five friendlies in the preseason didn’t seem to offer anything revealing.

Ready or not, Hernán Losada’s 34-game season and coaching era begin on Saturday night at Audi Field against New York City FC. Around 4,500 fans are expected, the first home audience since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic broke off the season.

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Expectations will start low. Whether or not they increase in the coming months depends on whether players decide on Losada’s principles and implement them well.

“Rome wasn’t built in a couple of weeks so it will take time. It will be good.”

Losada replaced Ben Olsen, who was sacked in October in a 5-12-6 season. The game on Saturday is the first time since 1997 that Olsen is neither in the squad nor in the coaching staff. He is now an advisor in the front office, which also includes Lucy Rushton as general manager and the move of longtime GM Dave Kasper to president of the football business.

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Change not only comes with the trainer, but also with his philosophy.

“It’s an energetic, oppressive, offensive style of football that wins the ball and looks forward to unbalancing opponents,” said midfielder Russell Canouse. “It takes time to build this collectivity because it’s a lot of effort, but it’s exciting. Once that refines and takes shape, it’s going to be a really cool style of play that we can relate to. “

Part of the mission, Losada said, is to entertain. Last year United scored 25 goals in 23 games, 12 of them in their last six games.

“That’s what we’re going to try to give not just to DC United fans, but to the entire league, who are gradually becoming neutral supporters as well [will] I want to see our games, ”said Losada.

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Before Losada implemented his proactive tactics, he had to create a philosophical foundation.

“It’s a kick in the butt for some guys, but in the right way,” said goalkeeper Chris Seitz. “It’s not too much. It is not too little. It’s just the right amount, and the guys take it and believe it. “

While the off-field work continues, Losada continues to push for better conditioning. He reiterated this week that the team is unable to play 90 minutes at his preferred pace and that in all likelihood he will make the maximum of five substitutions on Saturday “in order to get an energy boost at the end of the game “.

Losada will start the season without several key players.

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Defensive midfielder Felipe Martins is nearing the end of ACL rehab. Winger Paul Arriola made an early return from a loan to Swansea City in the English second division with a quadriceps condition and remains a few weeks away from the game.

Arriola will be an important figure after missing everything but the last game of last season with an ACL injury.

Striker Yordy Reyna (thigh) will miss the first six games and striker Ola Kamara (groin) is not 100 percent.

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United have only won two notable overseas players: US defender Brendan Hines-Ike (Belgium) and Dutch striker Nigel Robertha (Bulgaria), who was released for training on Monday.

Hines-Ike is about to start and Robertha seems to be on track to do so soon. “Of course,” said Losada, “I would like to have [had] Nigel four weeks ago. “

Erik Sorga, a 21-year-old Estonian striker who scored once last year, could start on Saturday.

United also signed winger Andy Najar, who started his career in Washington in 2010 and excelled from a string of long-term injuries in Belgium.

However, for United to be successful, returnees who were underachieved in the last year need to improve their game. The list includes Kamara, Edison Flores, Julian Gressel, and Yamil Asad. Flores, a Peruvian midfielder at the World Cup, was particularly disappointing after Mexican club Morelia hit a $ 5 million transfer record.

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Losada is also looking for a group of local players to take off this year: third year Donovan Pines and teenagers Moses Nyeman, Kevin Paredes and Griffin Yow. (Paredes struggled with injuries.)

“Hernán came in and has changed a lot,” said Canouse. “A lot of principles and ideas were thrown at us. You really need to focus on and absorb each and every workout session, but still play with a natural skill. I really enjoyed it. “

New York City FC at DC United

Television: NBC Sports Washington Plus, TeleXitos (Spanish).

Live stream: dcunited.com (subway area only).