Chris Pontius injury changes DC United's gameplan

On Saturday, for the first time in 2011, Chris Pontius won’t be on D.C. United’s team sheet.

The 24-year-old suffered what is likely to be a season-ending injury last weekend, fracturing his tibia in a second-half challenge with Chivas USA defender David Junior Lopes.

With the injury, DC lost the only player who’d appeared in every game thus far this season, and they won’t be able to call on a dangerous attacker who contributed seven goals and five assists on the year, including three helpers against Chivas last week.

“I think it’s going to change our game a little bit,” defender Marc Burch told MLSsoccer.com of Pontius’ absence. “With Andy [Najar] and Chris we have some out-and-out wingers that run at people every single time they get the ball. No matter who comes in to play left midfield, it’s going to be a little more possession, a little less up and back, and a little more slowing the game down.”

What’s certain is that others are going to need to ratchet up their work rate in order to cope with his absence.

“It’s an opportunity not just for myself but for everybody to step up collectively and pick up the slack,” Austin da Luz told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. “We’re definitely going to need it, and hopefully I can contribute a little bit more.”

One year after struggling with a hamstring injury, the third-year pro had become an automatic starter in head coach Ben Olsen’s squad and was lethal running at defenders with the ball at his feet.

Fortunately, outside midfield happens to be one of DC’s deepest positions on the team, with da Luz and veteran Santino Quaranta being the two strongest candidates to slot in on the left starting this weekend against the Sounders.

Assistant coach Chad Ashton said that things could change week-to-week as far as who starts on that left side. Whoever that turns out to be, the team is confident the player will get the job done.

“We have different guys who we feel like are ready to step up and relish that moment,” Ashton said. “We’re excited for those guys and we think those guys will embrace the [opportunity].”

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com.