The stadium lights went out at one point during Canadas World Cup qualifier Tuesday in Panama. D.C. United is hoping its bid for the playoffs will not be short circuited by the loss of Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury suffered in that game.
Life for United without the Canadian international will begin Saturday against New England at RFK Stadium. De Rosario, who played in 26 of Uniteds 27 MLS matches, is out 10-12 weeks because of a sprained MCL that happened in Canadas 2-0 loss to Panama. Just a week ago in the home fixture against Panama De Rosario provided the goal in a 1-0 win.
He is a guy thats scored a bunch of goals for us and for other teams, so it's a guy you want on the field, United midfielder Chris Pontius said of De Rosario. In teams that make deep runs and playoffs, numerous players step up not just one player. We have got to find that and everyone has got to take a little more pressure on their shoulders.
De Rosario is Uniteds captain and has accepted different roles. This season he has been used as both an attacking midfielder and withdrawn forward. De Rosario is tied for second in the league with 12 assists to go with seven goals. On August 29th the reigning league MVP scored his 100th career goal in a 2-2 tie with the New York Red Bulls.
If anything I think there is a higher percentage chance that it (loss of De Rosario) could bring us together, said United head coach Ben Olsen. I dont know if that is going to happen, but I could see that happening more than these guys throwing in the towel. It is not in this groups DNA.
Heading into the match against the Revolution Uniteds first playoff berth in five years is far from assured. United is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and one point behind Columbus and the final playoff spot. United was in first place at the midpoint of the season, but has lost five of its last nine matches over the past two months.
The timing of De Rosarios injury has also triggered an ominous feeling among Uniteds supporters. On September 10th of last year Pontius suffered a season-ending broken leg against in a 3-0 victory over Chivas USA. United stumbled without Pontius and lost six of its final nine matches.
I think we are stronger mentally and we have better personnel than we did last year at this point, Olsen said. It is great measuring stick for us to move forward and see which guys are ready to give more.
Although its not likely, United has not ruled out looking for help outside the club, but the MLS roster freeze is 5 PM on Saturday. Olsen joked that few clubs are willing to give up a goal scorer for a fourth round draft pick anyway. Against that backdrop it is both a challenge and opportunity for the players on the current roster to somehow fill the void in De Rosarios absence.
For the last four games, starting with a 4-2 win over Chicago, United has gone with a central midfield partnership of Marcelo Saragosa and Perry Kitchen. Over that same stretch Pontius has returned to a role on the left flank. It appears Olsen then has to find someone to partner with forward Lionard Pajoy.
Since being acquired in the trade that sent Danny Cruz to Philadelphia, Pajoy has started Uniteds last five matches and scored on goal. Maicon Santos is healthy again after missing five consecutive matches with a sore foot and is possible option to join Pajoy up top. Santos has seven goals on the season, but has not scored since Uniteds last meeting with New England on May 26.
For all Uniteds troubles on the road, six consecutive losses, United has not lost at home since the season opener against Kansas City. In the Revolution, United will be facing a side that went into a summer swoon. The Revolution had a 10-game winless streak, including seven losses, before finally breaking through in a 2-0 win over Columbus.
Saturdays game will mark Olsens entrance into the D.C. Uniteds Hall of Tradition. Olsen will be recognized for his service to the club as player and will join John Harkes, Marco Etcheverry, Jeff Agoos, Raul Diaz Arce, Eddie Pope and Richie Williams with a banner on the south wall at RFK Stadium.
Olsen appreciates the honor, but his concern is helping to recapture the clubs winning tradition by guiding the Black and Red into the playoffs as a head coach. The matches still have to be played, and without De Rosario, but Uniteds record over its final seven opponents is an impressive 7-1-1.