WASHINGTON – Almost exactly a year ago, D.C. United nosedived after losing Chris Pontius to a season-ending injury, failing to make the playoffs for a fourth straight season. With Thursday’s announcement that Dwayne De Rosario will be lost for the remainder of 2012, it’s an eerie sense of déjà-vu.
But this time, United head coach Ben Olsen said his side is better-equipped to deal with news.
“I think we’re stronger mentally and have better personnel than we did last year at this point where we hit some injuries that cost us a playoff berth,” Olsen said after Thursday’s training session. “I feel bad for Dwayne. I know what the rest of the season meant to him, but ultimately, we’re in the business of moving on.”
While the loss of De Rosario to an MCL sprain cannot be understated, Olsen doesn’t believe in using the loss of his captain as an excuse for poor performances in the club’s seven remaining matches – five of which come against teams outside the playoff picture.
“It’s doable,” he said. “This is not an excuse. We’re not looking for any pity parties. It’s about going forward and getting this job done.”
He also believes that in addition to being deeper on the pitch than last year’s side, this team is better-positioned to handle the mental blow that comes with losing a player of De Rosario’s caliber.
“I’m not concerned about that,” Olsen said. “If anything, I think there’s a higher-percentage chance that it could gel us. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I could see that happening more than these guys throwing in the towel.”
Following Thursday’s training session, Olsen didn’t reveal much when asked which players, specifically, will need to step up in De Rosario’s absence. He did, however, cite Pontius (D.C.’s leading scorer), Lionard Pajoy and Nick DeLeon by name.
“The way we play, the way we make up might be tweaked a little bit, but nothing as far as the philosophy of how we play and our mentality or the discipline that we want to go about the game with really changes,” Olsen said. “What changes is you don’t have a guy out there who can do really, really special things at any given moment.”
It remains to be seen how many additional minutes midfielder Branko Boskovic, who had been acclimating to a role off the bench, will play down the stretch or who will slide into the forward spot across from Pajoy.
Designated Player Hamdi Salihi, Maicon Santos and Long Tan, as well as Pontius, all have seen time up top this season. Andy Najar could rejoin the midfield as well after playing right back, especially given the improving health of Robbie Russell. But nothing will be known for sure until Olsen announces the starting 11 for Saturday’s home match against New England.
“There’s no one guy or two guys who are going to replace Dwayne and we’re not going to go get him in the league,” Olsen said. “Not too many teams right now are looking to give up 100-goal scorers for a fourth-round draft pick.”
De Rosario’s positive influence on United in terms of playmaking and leadership isn’t lost on his teammates. Especially Pontius, who was in De Rosario’s situation last year.
“It’s an opportunity for some of the guys who have seen DeRo lead the team,” Pontius said. “And now it’s our turn to kind of step up and lead these guys into, hopefully, the playoffs. I’m a firm believer that the depth of a team is going to take a team deep into the playoffs.”
In 25 matches this season, the 34-year-old De Rosario scored seven goals and assisted 12 more. He had two goals and two assists in his previous four games.
Olsen said because of the timing of De Rosario’s injury, a little less than 48-hours before the roster freeze, it will be hard for United to acquire an addition piece to fill his roster spot.
“It’s not that easy at this stage in the game,” Olsen said. “We’ll look. I think there’s a lot of teams calling and accepting phone calls, trying to get something done. In the end, a lot of this is talk. It’s a lot of fantasy soccer and not a lot of people want to pull the trigger.”