Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra steps in for United and delivers a pair of shutouts

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After two years with D.C. United and precisely zero minutes played, Andrew Dykstra knew it was time to address his future.

Entering this past offseason, the goalkeeper had reached a sort of “tweener” status in the American soccer pyramid. Having thrived during loans to the third-division Charleston Battery and Richmond Kickers, Dykstra proved that a player of his caliber had no business toiling in USL Pro. Yet when it came to MLS, he couldn’t escape the depths of United’s third-string slot.

“There was discussion about, ‘What exactly are you doing with me?’” Dykstra said. “I had proven myself at the USL level, I’ve done these things — where are we going from here? And the club said to me, ‘We’re not as interested in letting you go this year.’ So I knew something was up.”

Although the team had previously given Dykstra its blessing to pursue opportunities abroad, when interest from clubs in the Scottish top flight and English third tier didn’t pan out, United this preseason offered the 28-year-old a chance to win the backup job behind U.S. national team prospect Bill Hamid.

Joe Willis, entrenched as the No. 2 for the past two and a half years, had opened the door for Dykstra when he struggled at times last season. Following a steady preseason from Dykstra, it was Willis who found himself loaned to affiliate Richmond to start the new campaign.

With Hamid now sidelined by a toe injury, Dykstra has recorded back-to-back shutouts in his first appearances for United (2-2-1) heading into a tripSaturday to visit the first-place Columbus Crew (3-1-1).

“He’s a testament to this Richmond situation,” United coach Ben Olsen said. “We put a lot of stock in guys going down there and getting real games. … I think he went down there with the right attitude. He went down there wanting to win and succeed, and he did that. Now he’s able to step right in and do a good job.”

For Dykstra, the loans did have their complications. The travel took its toll as he trained during the week with United but played matches for the lower-level clubs. Constantly splitting his attention between multiple teams was also tricky.

But Dykstra’s productivity spoke for itself. After winning the USL Pro title with Charleston in 2012, he was the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year last season as he recorded a 0.86 goals against average for Richmond. He even shut out his parent club when United met the Kickers in the U.S. Open Cup, though D.C. advanced in a penalty shootout following the scoreless draw.

While the VCU product and Woodbridge native acknowledged growing frustrated with his role for United, he never considered making a permanent switch to USL Pro or the second-division NASL.

“I think that USL still has a ways to go in terms of taking care of players,” Dykstra said. “What I was doing on loan was the best-possible scenario because the level of training [with United] is a lot higher than any NASL, USL team. You’re getting that here, then you’re getting the games there.”

Summoned for United’s match against the New England Revolution on April 5, Dykstra backstopped the 2-0 win in his first MLS game since 2010, when he was with the Chicago Fire. And he kept another clean sheet in United’s 1-0 triumph over the rival New York Red Bulls last weekend.

As United captain Bobby Boswell said, “He’s answered the call.” Even though Dykstra hasn’t replicated the athletic saves of Hamid, he has played mistake-free soccer while making his long-awaited transition into the lineup a seamless one.

“My job the past couple years has been to be ready for this occasion,” Dykstra said. “I’m just trying to step in and make the most of it.”

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