A promising season knocked off-course by a nasty collision is finally about to get back on track for Greg Janicki.
This season began so brightly for the 24-year-old D.C. United defender. He started in the opener at the Los Angeles Galaxy in March - a long distance in many ways from the place in which he began his pro career the previous year, with the third-division Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
But fate suddenly dealt him a harsh blow - to the head.
Going for a ball against the Galaxy, Janicki collided with teammate Devon McTavish. Janicki needed six stitches on his forehead and had suffered a concussion that sidelined him for much of the season.
At last, fortune is on the upturn again for him.
With central defender Dejan Jakovic on international duty with Canada in the Gold Cup and likely to miss three MLS games, Janicki’s moment may have arrived. He is set to start when United travels to Ohio on Saturday for the top-of-the-conference clash against the Columbus Crew.
“We don’t have too many center backs floating around, so by default I’m the guy,” Janicki said. “I’m looking forward to get back in there and play 90 minutes and get sharp again.”
The trip to Columbus (5-3-7, 22 points) won’t be easy.
Led by forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew sit just one point behind United (5-3-8, 23 points), have lost only once in 10 games and is unbeaten at home. Along with the Crew, Toronto and Chicago are close behind United for the East’s top spot.
Replacing Jakovic won’t be easy, either. He has brought a confidence and calmness to United’s back line that it lacked last season.
Janicki has proven to coach Tom Soehn that he can take on Jakovic’s role. He played as a central defender in United’s 2-0 win over the Ocean City Barons in the U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.
“Greg had a good handle on the game at the back,” Soehn said. “It was important to give Greg some minutes with Dejan gone, and he showed signs that he was back to where he was last year.”
Janicki joined United from the Riverhounds in early September. He started in the final three games of the season, plus some CONCACAF Champions League games, and appeared to have won a role in the starting lineup.
“Last year was crazy and things happened so fast,” Janicki said. “I got in there and played well. It was a fairy-tale thing in my first couple of months in the league. And then this year started off fairly well until that incident.”
Janicki has played in five games this year, starting three.