United will be without Dwayne De Rosario for the rest of the 2012 season
We at Black And Red United take pride in covering D.C. United from a different perspective than you usually see in the main stream media. We're not the only ones that do that. Pablo Maurer covers United for the DCist and he also does it well. Pablo and I have different perspectives on the injury to Dwayne De Rosario, so we're sharing them with you below.
B&RU: There were no MLS matches yesterday. And yet yesterday D.C. United was eliminated from playoff contention. For the fifth consecutive year, United will be left out of the MLS postseason, despite being in first place in the Eastern Conference mere months ago.
Yesterday, United learned that its captain, leading assist man, and the defending league MVP will miss the remainder of the season with an MCL tear, and it freakin' sucks. This United team had so much more potential than those coming before in the recent past, but without Dwayne De Rosario on the field, the team doesn't have much of a chance of competing any longer.
Without DeRo, United has no one to run off of Lionard Pajoy at the top of the formation. Without DeRo, United has no one to distribute out to Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon, and Andy Najar on the wings. Without DeRo, the team is devoid of players who can play a central attacking midfield/withdrawn forward position while also providing the defensive work rate that Ben Olsen values so highly. Without DeRo, we're pretty much screwed.
So we as United fans might as well give up, right? We're back in rebuilding mode? Time to start cutting all the remaining veterans and replacing them with Academy kids for the rest of the season?
No. That's not what I'm saying, and despite the pessimism above, I still think this team has a legitimate shot at reaching the playoffs, if only because the schedule is favorable and there's a reasonable chance that one of the teams currently above United will slip.
But for United to still attain its goal of a return to the playoffs, two important things need to happen: First, someone else needs to step up and be the creative influence in the midfield while not being a total shlep on defense (looking at you, Branko Boskovic). And second, the team needs to rally around the cause.
D.C. sports fans will remember what happened to the Redskins in the aftermath of the tragic loss of Sean Taylor. Those players were playing for something bigger than just themselves. De Rosario's injury may be inconsequential when compared to Taylor's death, but the reaction from DeRo's teammates will need to be the same as the reaction from Taylor's. Don't give up. Everyone wants to write you off? Prove them wrong. Prove me wrong.
PM: Guys, I'm worried. I'm not Shatzer worried, but I'm worried. I share many of the same concerns - the position DeRo has been most effective at all year isn't one that United can easily fill.
There's no way that Ben Olsen will try and fill DeRo's withdrawn forward slot with another player - United doesn't have anybody who fits the bill. He'll have to do the best with the tools he has - more than likely, most of the pressure will end up falling squarely on the shoulders of Branko Boskovic. While the Montenegrin is lacking in certain areas (speed, fitness, consistency) he distributes the ball as well as De Rosario does (when he feels like it) and is arguably better on set pieces.
What Boskovic doesn't possess - and hardly any players in MLS do - is De Rosario's ability to grab a game by the horns. DeRo is creative - he can carve a chance out of thin air. We saw it multiple times last year (his shorthanded hat trick against Toronto and his equally impressive performance against Salt Lake come to mind) and we've gotten a taste of it this year as well.
The real question, for me, is whether United can fill DeRo's role in the locker room. Spend some time around the team at a practice, or after a game, and his importance as a leader is easy to see. Who fills that role? The responsibility will fall on the shoulders of some of DCU's younger players - it's time for some of the squads more vocal guys - Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald - to step up and take control.
And let's not forget that United still have their share of wily veterans as well - in Josh Wolff you've got someone who's represented his country in multiple world cups, won multiple trophies in MLS and Open Cup play and even played in the Olympics. In Robbie Russell you've got a journeyman just 2 years removed from a Cup victory. Their leadership will be invaluable to the squad down the stretch.
Here's the bottom line - it's something Martin and I seem to agree on, and something you don't need an expert to figure out: If United's other guys step up, United will still make the playoffs. They're going to need a bit of help from Columbus and Houston, but it's still a very real possibility. Frankly, I think this experience may bring them closer together. Now is not the time for DCU fans to panic - we can do that in the off-season. Now is the time for United's fan base to get to RFK and support their team.
I think DCU squeaks in to post-season play. I don't know. Maybe I'm just telling myself that to keep myself from going crazy. Maybe this is just still fresh on my mind and I can't bear the thought of another late-season breakdown. But for some reason, I think the ship is about to be righted.