WASHINGTON – At the beginning of the season, midfield depth was a bit of a question mark for D.C. United.
Now, with the news that second-year midfielder Nick DeLeon is expected to miss roughly six weeks with a Grade II hamstring strain, the club’s depth in the middle is even thinner. Which is not good for a group that’s scored twice in four matches.
DeLeon was injured in the 27th minute of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium. In United’s opener at RFK, midfielder John Thorrington sprained his MCL attempting to block a shot against Real Salt Lake.
“Someone’s got to step in,” midfielder Chris Pontius said after training Wednesday. “It’s not necessarily that other people have to take more weight on their shoulders, but Nick is a big part of our team. It sucks to see him go down, but it’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Hopefully whoever steps into his position can give us that width and can run at backs like Nick did.”
In addition to DeLeon and Thorrington, who are expected to miss significant time, both midfielders Marcelo Saragosa and Lewis Neal are on the mend. Neal was listed as questionable with adductor tendinitis ahead of the Columbus match and Saragosa was held out with a hamstring strain. A weekend off seems to have come at the perfect time.
“[The break] is good for [DeLeon], it’s good for Marcelo, it’s good for Johnny Thorrington,” Pontius said. “All those guys can take time with little things that are nagging them or bugging them. Hopefully we can get them back as soon as we can. But these are injuries you don’t want them to rush. You want them to get back and fully healed.”
Playing through the injury of a star player is nothing new for United, who successfully sprinted through the end of last season without captain Dwayne De Rosario.
In four starts this season, DeLeon has played 301 minutes and attempted three shots on goal. His replacement likely will be the same player who came on for him against Columbus: 23-year-old Kyle Porter.
“I think Kyle’s ready to step in,” Pontius said. “He’s a very dangerous player going 1-v-1, so hopefully if we can get him isolated in those spots.”
Porter has appeared in three matches and played 98 minutes. He said he has picked DeLeon’s brain a bit about potentially stepping into his position and is working closely with assistant coach Josh Wolff.
“I think it’s unfortunate what happened to Nicky, but I think I have to live up to my role on the team and do the best that I can to help the team moving forward,” Porter said. “We’re close in the way we play. I think there’s not going to be much missing. Personally, I watched some videos of [DeLeon] so I can understand what he brings and I can bring it forward, too.”