Hamstring injury disrupted midfielder after he showed fine early-season form
Nick DeLeon's arrival in Major League Soccer was as recognizable for his fearlessness on the ball as it was for his curly and unruly long hair.
As first-place D.C. United (10-5-3) returns from a two-week break and dives into a conference-heavy second half of the year, DeLeon aims to recapture his early-season form. But the hair got shaved off last weekend.
|D.C. United at Dynamo|
|When » Sunday, 9 p.m.|
|Where » BBVA Compass|
|TV » CSN|
"I got butchered," DeLeon said, referring to the surprising reaction he got from fans, not the actual haircut.
The rookie from Louisville isn't looking for an equally dramatic change in his game. But after three goals and three assists in his first nine matches made him a front-runner for MLS rookie of the year, DeLeon's progress was hampered when he missed four games with a hamstring injury.
He has worked his way back in the last four matches but moved to the bench for the first time since the second week of the season in United's most recent contest. In a reserve role, he helped create the final goal in the 3-0 win over Montreal.
Part of DeLeon's adjustment comes with learning to balance his dynamic one-on-one ability with defensive responsibilities and the need to combine with his more experienced teammates.
"[At Louisville] I was like the big dog or whatever you want to say, the guy the play went through," DeLeon said. "Coming here, you got other players like [Dwayne De Rosario], Maicon [Santos], these other big names. For me, it's challenging. It's hard because I'm used to being on the ball all the time."
With a surplus of forwards and Chris Pontius' ability to play in the midfield, Olsen may continue to lean on DeLeon as a second-half spark. But DeLeon won't fall out of United's plans, even if his new hair style doesn't make him stand out as much as did at the season's start.
"Perry Kitchen, he took about two hours off. That was his rookie wall. Some guys go about it in a different way," United coach Ben Olsen said. "I think [DeLeon is] fine. I think he had a couple weeks where the season got a little long, and now he's back."