Playing their third match in seven days, with two more on tap in the coming week, D.C. United manager Ben Olsen adjusted his starting XI in an effort to rest some of his key players.
Saturday afternoon on the road against Montreal – the side directly behind United in the Eastern Conference standings – captain Dwayne De Rosario, leading scorer Chris Pontius and set-piece orchestrator Branko Boskovic all were left on the bench and did not start.
United lost the match, 3-0, and now hold a mere one-point lead against the Impact with three games in hand.
“You can’t play these guys every game with two days rest in between three games,” Olsen said. “So we went with a group that had some energy and I thought, overall, they were pretty good.”
With two days rest following a dominant 4-2 victory against Chicago in midweek, De Rosario was originally penciled into the starting lineup Saturday, but was a late scratch. The DC captain had started two consecutive matches after missing a trip to Kansas City with a shoulder injury.
Highlights: Montreal 3, D.C. United 0
“Dwayne had a little bit of a calf that we weren’t sure whether or not it was the right thing to do to push him 90 minutes,” Olsen said.
Against Chicago in midweek, De Rosario played 89 minutes, Pontius played 85 and Boskovic was suspended because of a red card he received a match earlier against Philadelphia.
Despite not starting, De Rosario entered the match in the second half with his club down 2-0 and played 29 minutes. Pontius and Boskovic did the same, playing 32 and 39 minutes respectively.
“You don’t get a break,” Olsen said. “The guys, obviously, a bunch of them were leggy. Even the guys coming in didn’t look 100 percent.”
DC rookie Nick DeLeon was another scratch, missing the match because of illness.
“These are tough to take. They start to add up and it becomes an emotional week for us and our players because they’re working their tails off,” Olsen said. “They’re doing what they can and I was very happy with their effort and mentality through the group.”
Aside from one defensive breakdown, the first half was largely positive for United, who haven’t won away from RFK Stadium since June 16. The opening goal in the 24th minute by Montreal's Marco Di Vaio changed the momentum of the match, which DC controlled to that point.
United were more dangerous around goal after Olsen's subs in the second half, but it wasn't enough to overcome a Montreal side that now has won five in a row and was coming off six days of rest.
A showdown against the Red Bulls at RFK Stadium looms on Wednesday. The Red Bulls currently are in second place, four points ahead of DC United.
“Now we have three days to recover and get ready for New York. It goes on,” Olsen said. “These two weeks are going to be a grind and we’ve got to figure a way to get three at home.”