- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

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.

“Injuries are something I’ve never had to go through so the concussion thing was a drag,” he said. “I’m the kind of player that needs to play on a daily basis to stay sharp. I’m not a Santino Quaranta who can be out of the game for a year and come back and still have it.”

Janicki said he no longer feels the effects of the concussion but does visual enhancement testing to help him focus.

“I’m trying to get my mind sharp,” Janicki said. “It’s almost like doing Sudoku.”

He also hopes to redeem himself in Columbus for a poor performance against the Colorado Rapids on June 20, when he earned a rare start in an experiment with a four-man back line. The start marked his first league game since early May, and the layoff showed. Rapids striker Omar Cummings breezed past him in the 11th minute to kick-start a 3-0 win, United’s worst loss of the season.

“When you are not playing you have to keep mentality sharp,” Janicki said. “That’s tough to do when you are not used to sitting on the bench. This is new for me. I’ve never sat on the bench much. I’ve got to stay injury-free for the next couple of weeks.”

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