The first 7,500 fans attending Sunday's match at R.F.K. Stadium between D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union will receive Dwayne De Rosario bobbleheads. Of more importance De Rosario is expected to be back on the field, where United of late has been up and down, just like a bobblehead.
De Rosario has been upgraded on the injury report from doubtful to probable after missing last week's game against Sporting Kansas City with a sore shoulder. De Rosario injured the shoulder in the 1-0 home win over Columbus and actually finished that match, but was sorely missed in a 2-1 loss to Kansas City. It was his first missed game of the season.
This is not a panic time. United has slipped to fifth place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference---the top five teams make the playoffs---but has played fewer games than its conference foes. Still, the Black and Red have lost four of their last six games and have only scored two goals in their last four matches.
Given the offensive slide, perhaps it's not a surprise that United traded for Colombian forward Lionard Pajoy. The surprise certainly is in United's swapping with a conference opponent who also happens to be next on the schedule. With five goals in 20 appearances, Pajoy was tied with Gabriel Gomez for the Union's lead in scoring.
"He's not a forward you necessarily want to play against," noted Chris Pontius. "So hopefully he'll bring more of our attacking pieces into play."
In his native Colombia, which has been a rich pipeline for MLS talent, Pajoy scored 47 goals in 215 league matches. To acquire Pajoy, United had to give up Danny Cruz, who actually won the starting job on the right flank early in the season. Now with Andy Najar back from the Olympics and the continued emergence of rookie Nick De Leon and Lewis Neal, Cruz was suddenly on the outside of the outside of the midfield.
In addition Chris Pontius has become the first choice left-sided midfielder with De Rosario playing as a withdrawn forward. Last week against Sporting Kansas City Pontius was forced to play up top, where he also has had success, because of De Rosarios absence with a sore shoulder.
Without De Rosario against Kansas City, United struggled to get any kind of sustained possession and needed a brilliant moment created by Najar and finished by De Leon to make the game competitive. In midfield Branko Boskovic struggled to get involved and came off after 45 minutes with a sore knee.
After a fast start Maicon Santos, who has 7 goals, has not scored since United's win over New England at the end of May. Santos has not started since the middle of July against Houston and missed last week's game against Kansas City with toe soreness.
In addition, Hamdi Salihi has not had the spark he had when he scored 4 goals in May and is just back from playing 61 minutes in Albania's 0-0 tie with Moldova. Long Tan has started United's last three matches, including the friendly against PSG, but for all his productive activity off the ball he has yet to score.
"This week we're going to mix and match out of necessity but ideally you want a guy that gets on form and is your reliable guy," head coach Ben Olsen said of his forward situation.
United also has concerns on the backline where Daniel Woolard is trying to recover from concussion symptoms, and Robbie Russell is battling plantar fasciitis. Dejan Jakovic has also struggled with fitness, but played 90 minutes mid-week in Canada's 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago.
The bottom line for United is the match against Philadelphia is a home game in August against a conference opponent. This is a big deal. For whatever health concerns the team has or struggles to find the right mix on offense, it is a critical three points for United to grab in what is shaping up to be a very competitive Eastern Conference.
Adding to the challenge is Philadelphia is a new team under interim-head coach John Hackworth. United faced Philadelphia in Hackworth's first game in charge and was fortunate to escape with a 1-0 win on the road. After that loss to United, the Union won four of their next five matches.