For Andrew Dykstra, opportunities at D.C. United tend to be few and far between. That’s the business of being a backup goalkeeper, especially on a team with Bill Hamid.
But as United opened its 2015 campaign with a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Costa Rican club Alajuelense, Hamid, the 2014 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, was sidelined. That meant Dykstra’s name was called for his biggest assignment yet — only the veteran backup had health concerns of his own.
After tearing his left Achilles’ tendon in July, Dykstra looked rusty in his first appearance in eight months. His shaky outing contributed to a 5-2 loss in the first leg of the two-game, total-goals series, which United ultimately dropped, 6-4.
“I was working with one leg and it was tough,” Dykstra said. “I thought I could get through it, and I wasn’t as sharp as I wanted to be.”
United coach Ben Olsen put it bluntly: “We set him up to fail.”
The club’s faith in Dykstra didn’t waver. After logging just four MLS matches for United from 2012 to 2014, the Woodbridge native and VCU alumnus made nine starts last year.
With playing time came a return to form and fitness. The goalkeeper who appeared unsure of himself against Alajuelense never resurfaced.
“A moment like that tests your confidence,” Dykstra said. “For me, the first part of getting somewhere is having the opportunity. The second part is having an organization and a coaching staff that supports you.
“You’ve seen it in the past — there’s a goalkeeper who makes an error or a mistake and coaches are done with them. Other times they make mistakes and coaches stand behind them, and those guys end up being starters in the league.”
History is repeating itself as United prepares to kick off its season with a Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Mexican club Queretaro on Tuesday. With Hamid likely out until the summer following offseason right knee surgery, Dykstra is poised to start United’s opener in Mexico and enjoy his longest stint as a No. 1 goalkeeper since 2010 with the Chicago Fire.
“Andrew has been very sharp in the preseason, and it’s his job right now,” Olsen said. “We’ve always felt confident in Andrew as a backup. His record says that. The guys trust him, and I know he’s very much looking forward to showing he’s not just a backup.”
Dykstra signed with United as the club’s third-string goalkeeper in 2012, sitting behind Hamid and Joe Willis for two seasons while spending much of his time on loan to third-tier Charleston and Richmond. He won the backup job in 2014, and United dealt Willis to the Houston Dynamo the subsequent offseason.
While United’s preseason camp has featured competition from trialists such as former Toronto FC starter Chris Konopka and German veteran Benjamin Kirsten, Dykstra has maintained a firm grip on the starting job.
“He did great things last year,” midfielder Markus Halsti said. “It’s not easy to be competing with Bill. He’s made some really good saves, and he’s a big goalie who uses his voice and is good in the air, so we have confidence having Andrew in goal.”
At 30 years old, Dykstra has waited a long time for another extended look in MLS, yet he isn’t heaping additional pressure on himself as the season looms. The expectations may have risen, but his mentality is stable.
“I’ve never looked past what’s in front of me at the moment,” Dykstra said. “In my mind, there is no reason to get excited or worked up or anything like that. I just know it’s a great opportunity for me personally.
“I have a lot of confidence in the way I play and in what I’m capable of doing.”