Injury troubles had never been a concern for Ethan White. From Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School to the University of Maryland to D.C. United, he was a game in, game out player. Always ready when called upon.
But minor knee surgery last March combined with a more crowded depth chart to create a snowball effect that plowed over White’s progress. First, the center back had to watch from afar as the U.S. under-23 national team failed to qualify for the London Olympics. Then, after starting 21 games as a rookie in 2011, White didn’t see a second of playing time all season.
“You don’t really realize how big of a deal it is until you’re not in the 18 every week,” White said, referring to the 18-man game-day roster. “You’re sitting in the stands and you’re watching the guys warm up, you’re watching the guys play. It’s like, ‘I was there — and now I’m not.’”
In reality, White’s breakout first year with the club was ahead of schedule. Injuries and a thin defensive corps forced the United academy product into action much sooner than coach Ben Olsen anticipated.
As goalkeeper Bill Hamid said, “He had a lot to deal with, especially being a youngster jumping into the league at a very vital position. But he did it extremely well.”
While White has been forced to take a step back, he hasn’t been entirely inactive over the past year and a half. Sent to the third-tier Richmond Kickers for a slew of one-game loan stints, he has seized the opportunities to accumulate minutes and maintain sharpness.
“It’s not the same level, it’s not the same experience as it is here, but playing a game is playing a game,” White said. “You’re playing soccer. Whether I’m playing at Barcelona or I’m playing at Richmond, it’s still a soccer game.”
That type of philosophy has served White well, with teammates and Olsen praising the defender for maintaining a positive approach from the bench. In training, the 22-year-old continues to probe his more experienced colleagues for tips of the trade.
“He always has a wonderful attitude about his role on this team,” Olsen said. “It’s a very difficult thing, and I think he’s handled it pretty well. He worked very hard in the offseason, he’s fit and right now he’s just got to make sure he’s ready if he’s called upon, which he will be at some point this year.”
That could be as soon as Saturday, when United (1-1-1) host the Columbus Crew (1-1-1) at RFK Stadium. With Dejan Jakovic on Canada national team duty, a starting slot in central defense has opened up, likely for White or veteran Daniel Woolard to claim.
“I’m very confident,” McDonald said. “One of his biggest qualities is he’s willing to learn, and I think as a footballer and in any profession you have, if you have an attitude that you’re willing to learn and listen to someone next to you, you can only grow. And he has that mentality.”
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