With four key players recovering from injury, who will start this Sunday for D.C. United?
The big lineup question for D.C. United coming out of Sunday's first leg against the Houston Dynamo is the injury situation, particularly focused on four players: Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald, Marcelo Saragosa, and Dwayne De Rosario. As various reporters at D.C. United practice today have posted, the team has a positive outlook on the injuries suffered by Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa. If McDonald cannot go, Emiliano Dudar will slid in as he did this past Sunday; if Saragosa is unable to go, I would expect Ben Olsen to go with Stephen King as a starter, although Raphael Augusto is also possible. This situation also makes me wish that Conor Shanosky was available to play after leading the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of NASL in minutes played, but he was not activated for the playoffs.
Chris Pontius' injury, however, seems to be more severe. Because of that, I think that LEWIS NEAL will get the start on Sunday, with Pontius hopefully able to come in around the 70th minute if needed. Other than Neal and Bill Hamid's return, I see the same starting lineup as on Sunday with a vastly different substitution pattern, should Olsen ever be allowed to do it the way that he wants. Yes, fatigue might play a factor in who starts, but this is a do or die game in which all of United's best players will hopefully be on the field, barring injury. As for those subs, I see them being Joe Willis, Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi, Chris Pontius, Dwayne De Rosario, Emiliano Dudar, and Daniel Woolard.
Although he has been loathe to use him recently, I see Maicon Santos as the first substitute off the bench, likely for Branko Boskovic in Branko-time (the 56th minute). I see Dwayne De Rosario coming in a little later, probably closer to the 70th minute, for whomever is gassed. The last sub will be Chris Pontius if he is fit enough to go or Hamdi Salihi if he is not. That sub will likely come around the same time as De Rosario, depending on the score at that time. If the team is already up three goals by that time, expect someone like Daniel Woolard or Stephen King to come in and help clog up the passing lane.
As your homework for this week, I have something that I stole from Ben Mahler on twitter. Give me the five players you think will be on the field and who you want to take penalty kicks, should it come to that. I'll start: De Rosario, Saragosa, Russell, Kitchen, DeLeon, in some order.