It is not getting easier for D.C. United. Eager to atone for a mystifying 3-2 loss Sunday at home to Philadelphia, United has to face Columbus on the road Saturday without midfielder Chris Pontius because of a groin injury.
Pontius suffered the injury Thursday in training, and it is the latest chapter in an unsettled midfield for United this season. Nick De Leon remains sidelined with an injury, and his creative energy on the right flank is sorely missed. Pontius netted 12 goals last season, and before the injury was hoping to open his scoring account this weekend
Dwayne De Rosario is just returning from an adductor strain, while Marcos Sanchez missed the last two games with an ankle sprain. De Rosario should be ready to play another 90-minute match, and Sanchez is expected to be available. Rookie Kyle Porter was active in the Philadelphia loss and provides another option.
“It is challenge to have a target on your back,” said United head coach Ben Olsen “Everybody knows this year who DC United is again. People are prepared for us, and they are preparing for certain individuals that had success last year. We are getting teams' A games, and we haven’t yet gotten better”
The loss to the Union left United coaches and players at a loss for words. Trying to stop a three game losing streak United inexplicably gave up two goals in the first 11 minutes of the game and conceded three goals in a game for the first time since a 3-0 loss in Montreal last August.
“Sometimes you need the stick, and sometimes guys need a hug,” Olsen noted. “It’s a balance. I think I have pretty good pulse of the guys. I am still young, so I understand emotionally what they are going through, but ultimately they have to decide that they want this.”
United’s response from the early deficit against the Union was admirable, but it was not enough to stop the Black and Red from slipping to its first four game losing streak since 2011. Not lost in the loss was De Rosario’s ability to play a full 90 minutes and deliver his first point of the season with an assist on Perry Kitchen’s goal.
“I am trying to build my rhythm back within the team, said De Rosario. “ As the days go by I am feeling more like myself and I am feeling more confident in my touch. That’s important especially as a playmaker and offensive minded player. I am hoping to carry that assist into the next game and a win.”
The Crew with 7 points from 9 matches is eager to bounce back from a 1-0 road loss in Chicago. The defeat to the Fire stopped a four-game unbeaten run and raised concern about a Crew offense that has not scored multiple goals in a game since a 2-1 win over D.C. United at R.F. K Stadium on March 23.
Only Dominic Oduro has scored for the Crew over the last three games. Both of Oduro’s goals were in a 1-1 draws and there is a need for the Crew to get 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year Federico Higuaín back involved. Higuain scored the Crew’s opening goal of the season in a 3-0 win over Chivas USA, but has only added one assist since.
Restricting Higuain’s ability to make an impact on the game will be a focus for United. The responsibility of limiting Higuain will fall largely on Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa in the center of the midfield. For its part the Crew believes it has not done enough as a team to get the ball to Higuain in the right situations.
Regardless of the tactical matchups, United needs to start showing that it is connected as a team. It was evident last season when United survived a late season injury to De Rosario to not only make the playoffs but advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals. It is not about team meetings or team talks. It is about the approach on the field.
“Maybe the soccer part isn’t good, but that’s okay,” Olsen added. “You can still get results in this league, if the intangibles are there. The concentration, the commitment and passion must be there. I know it is cliché, but it is real. If your team spirit is right and you are willing to do more than the next guy, then in this league sometimes that is good enough to get some points until you find your rhythm and get some healthy guys back.”