Blake Brettschneider a find at forward for D.C. United
By the time Blake Brettschneider found out he would be kicking off his professional soccer career with D.C. United, the University of South Carolina product had endured waiting through five rounds and 75 picks over the course of two separate drafts.
Considering how much time passed before his name was called, Brettschneider joined United’s rebuilt attacking corps without the same fanfare that accompanied fellow offseason acquisitions Charlie Davies, Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya. His even making the opening-day roster was far from guaranteed.
The 22-year-old, after all, was bypassed during January’s three-round MLS SuperDraft before D.C. selected him in the supplemental draft five days later. But he has developed into a formidable option at forward, having started both matches of the club’s road swing to Portland and Los Angeles last week.
“Obviously, I would have liked to have gone higher,” Brettschneider said. “But just to be on the team - that was enough. To get the minutes that I have gotten so far is probably the product of hard work and just not taking no for an answer.”
With Davies, United’s leading scorer, still working his way back to full fitness after suffering a hamstring strain May 14, Brettschneider could make his fifth start for D.C. (4-4-4) on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes (4-4-4) at RFK Stadium.
While usual United starters Davies and Wolff offer bursts of speed and dynamic runs that keep opposing defenders on their heels, the 6-foot, 172-pound Brettschneider is more of a banger up top who provides a physical presence in the attacking third.
He used that size May 29 at Portland to tally the first two assists of his career on a pair of flick-on headers that sparked a 3-2 D.C. win. The rookie retained his place in the starting lineup five days later as United picked up a scoreless draw at first-place Los Angeles.
“He’s done exactly what we’ve asked him to do these last couple games and that’s try to hold the ball and work your tail off,” coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s got a ways to go, but I thought in the two games, he was a big part of the success of our team.”
The lanky Georgia native quickly made a name for himself with United this preseason by notching four goals. His scoring exploits, however, didn’t immediately carry over into regular-season success, and he ended up going nearly two months without seeing the field in a league match.
The tide started to turn when he bagged his first professional goal during a 2-1 friendly loss to Dutch champion Ajax last month. Injuries to Davies and Wolff then slid him into the first 11 against Portland, and he made the most of his opportunity by helping United become the first visiting side to win an MLS contest at Jeld-Wen Field.
“Coming into the league, games look a little differently than they did in the preseason,” Wolff explained. “He had some moments that were good early but obviously some struggles. I think he had a little bit of a confidence lull, but he picked it back up after the Ajax game.”
After playing a slew of different positions at South Carolina, and being initially listed by MLS as a defender, midfielder and forward, the former U.S. under-20 national team player has embraced the opportunity to focus on being a striker for United.
“I don’t have a lot of complaints coming out of South Carolina, but if there is one thing I wish would have been different, it would have been to stay in one position,” Brettschneider said. “It makes it a little bit more difficult to find a rhythm. It’s definitely nicer to stay in one spot for the most part.”
As he continues to learn the subtleties of playing forward full time and adjust to the professional game’s speed, Brettschneider said he is concentrating on developing the technical savvy to consistently hold the ball up front. And like most attacking players, he feels he can always improve on his finishing.
Brettschneider, though, knows his progress largely is dependent on his continuing to prove the teams that repeatedly passed him over wrong and earn first-team playing time in MLS.
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