WASHINGTON – Dwayne De Rosario is as persistent as he is talented.
And although De Rosario hasn’t played for D.C. United for a shade more than two-and-a-half months – the result of a sprained left MCL – he hasn’t stopped prodding head coach Ben Olsen about his desire to make a return to the field before the calendar turns to 2013.
“He still knocks on my door every morning, tells me he’s ready,” Olsen said, smiling at the thought.
With United in desperate need of goals to reverse a 3-1 hole from a week ago, that return finally seems like a very real possibility when D.C. host the Houston Dynamo in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship at RFK Stadium on Sunday (4 pm ET, NBCSN, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
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And although De Rosario may proclaim his readiness and is listed as probable on Friday’s injury report, he’s certainly not game fit, which complicates exactly how Olsen will utilize the reigning MLS MVP.
Will he start with the prospect of 120 minutes on the table? Or will Olsen choose to keep his trump card in his deck should D.C. struggle to create chances in a game they need to win by two or more goals?
Either way, United say they are prepared for the task at hand. After all, they were unfeated in nine games without De Rosario until last Sunday’s loss in Houston.
“We’re comfortable with or without him,” Nick DeLeon, D.C.’s lone playoff scorer with two goals, said. “With him, he just adds that dynamic threat, that creativity in the final third. But we’re a very together team without him as well. With or without him, I think we’ll be OK.”
Still, DeLeon admitted United’s captain has looked sharp in practice after rejoining the team on the training pitch about two weeks ago, a judgment backed up by Perry Kitchen and a remark that should encourage D.C. fans worried about the increasingly likely absence of Chris Pontius.
“I think we all know what he brings,” Kitchen said. “But as far how he’s looked? He’s looked great, very sharp. It doesn’t seem like he’s been out as long as he has. We could possibly see him. And if he’s in there, we know he’s going to do a great job.”
That job? Create or finish the chances D.C. desperately need to extend their season.
“He’s a guy that’s going to create things and make something out of nothing,” Kitchen said. “This is a game that we’re going to need him to do that if he’s in there. If he’s in there, we expect him to do that and hopefully create chances for us.”
No matter who’s pulling the attacking strings, DeLeon said the key for United will be movement off the ball when Houston’s shape collapses, specifically “penetrating runs off the outside shoulders” of the Dynamo backline.
And if United can get an early goal like the first leg, when DeLeon started and finished a counterattack after Pontius exited with a groin strain, that would pile the pressure on Houston with a raucous RFK crowd egging the home side forward.
“The quicker we score, the better. It’s going to be easier on us and our fans and people watching,” Brandon McDonald, who is listed as questionable for the match with a calf strain, said. "I don’t think anyone wants to have a heart attack.
“Our past couple games you’re hearing from people that you’re on the edge of their seats, wiping their forehead after the game like, ‘That was a close one.’ So for us, the quicker we can go about doing it and putting the ball in the back of the net, it would be saving us [from that].”