Better luck could place it in Cup picture

D.C. United is sticking with the guys who got the franchise back in the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

As Major League Soccer conducts its college draft in Indianapolis on Thursday, players will begin to report to RFK Stadium for a season that begins March 2, the league's earliest start in its 17-year history. An overwhelming majority of them already have lockers.

"We didn't have a lot of pressing needs this offseason compared to the last two offseasons," United general manager Dave Kasper said. "It took some unlikely breaks not to move on to MLS Cup."

MLS SuperDraft
When » Thursday, noon
Where » Indiana Convention
Center, Indianapolis

It was unlucky that United lost Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius to injuries and Andy Najar to a suspension. It will need all three healthy and back in the fold if they expect to repeat as the fourth-highest scoring team in MLS.

De Rosario (seven goals, 12 assists), who suffered a left knee injury in September, is fine and will report this weekend to Canadian national team camp along with defender Dejan Jakovic. Pontius (12 goals, four assists) remains two to three weeks removed from action after a groin injury he sustained during the playoffs in November.

Najar is on loan with RSC Anderlecht through the end of January. It remains to be seen whether the Belgian club will attempt to secure a permanent transfer.

"It has to be a situation that will be in everyone's best interest," Kasper said.

United is in the final stages of parting ways with Canadian goalkeeping coach Pat Onstad, who is expected to leave for Toronto FC, Kasper said. United would receive compensation for allowing Onstad to break his contract and move to a fellow Eastern Conference team.

United's most significant departures in the offseason were midfielder Branko Boskovic and forward Maicon Santos. Forward Hamdi Salihi is under contract but doesn't appear to be in the club's plans. Veteran Josh Wolff retired to join United's coaching staff.

A few new faces will help fill in around the edges. Veteran midfielder John Thorrington was picked in the re-entry draft, and his signing is expected to be completed in the coming weeks. Former University of Virginia goalkeeper Diego Restrepo will join the team on trial, according to a league source.

United wants to be patient with Brazilian 20-year-old Rafael and 16-year-old academy product Michael Seaton, but the word has different meanings for each. Rafael is expected to vie for starter's minutes, while Seaton is a longer-term project.

"We want to just get him in without feeling that we have to have a plan in stone," Kasper said.

Similarly, there's no specific plan for the 17th pick in Thursday's draft. United's biggest needs are at outside back and wide midfield. Attacking depth also will be crucial for a team that scored more than one goal in only two of 11 matches down the stretch last season without De Rosario.

"At No. 17, we will take the best player available," Kasper said. "If it fits a more pressing need for cover, that's great. That's not going to be a main item with this draft for us."