This D.C. United team is no stranger to adversity. It's pretty much been the theme of this playoff run. And it was certainly the theme today in United's 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium in the first leg of the 2012 MLS Eastern Conference Finals.
The players have brushed off the Dwayne De Rosario injury and used it as motivation to get even better. United can absorb suspensions to Bill Hamid and Andy Najar and just keep going. We had our third string left back in the lineup on Thursday night and still managed to shut out the New York Red Bulls.
But can United survive without its leading scorer? What will we do without Chris Pontius?
Can United afford to change its formation and play with a lineup other than the empty bucket that's been working so effectively lately? How will we cope without a second true defensive midfielder? What will we do without Marcelo Saragosa?
What about if our most consistent defender picks up an injury. What will we do without Brandon McDonald?
In the literal sense, we learned the answers to all those questions today. The answers were Lewis Neal, Emiliano Dudar, and the MLS debut of Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto.
What we don't yet know though is how the team will change tactically if forced to continue without those players. Today, with the match already underway, a tactical change wouldn't have been prudent. Still, even with a 1-0 lead, Ben Olsen didn't choose to make a defensive switch. He could have brought on Daniel Woolard to lock down the left wing, but instead turned to Augusto for his first minutes of the season.
That first goal for United came from a familiar duo. It came from two of the guys involved in the game-winning goal in New York just three days ago. Lionard Pajoy got in behind the Houston defense and struck a shot that beat Tally Hall but couldn't beat the far post. The ball bounced out but Nick DeLeon found it and smashed it into the back of the net.
The Dynamo equalized early in the second half, with the goal coming from a player that should have been sent off with a red card for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity a few minutes earlier. Andre Hainault lost his marker and put away a cross from Oscar Boniek Garcia that started with a quick free kick that caught United off-guard.
The home team pulled ahead for good later in the second half as the ultimate D.C. killer Will Bruin beat Joe Willis and put the ball just inside the near post.
The Dynamo added a third goal in the 80th minute as United started to show its fatigue. As Augusto failed to clear a corner kick and a probably injured Chris Korb was caught out of position, a wide open Kofi Sarkodie pounded the ball into the goal.
We won't find out until later in the week if Pontius, Saragosa, or McDonald will be back. With Korb fighting off an injury, his status might be in doubt as well. Regardless, United will be happy to have Hamid back in the lineup next Sunday. Hamid will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after being thrown out of the game against the Red Bulls on Thursday night. I wouldn't want to face an angry Hamid. I'm guessing the Dynamo won't either.
Hamid won't be the only one who is angry. Olsen is angry as well. There are few things in this universe more scary than an angry Ben Olsen. He's had a brilliant season. Does he have one moment of brilliance left in him? He'll need it next Sunday.
United is undefeated at RFK Stadium since March 10th. Just continuing that undefeated streak won't be enough though. United will need to get two goals back to even the aggregate score with the Dynamo, and a third to clinch a return to the MLS Cup Final.