A worst-case scenario has unfolded for D.C. United with injured playmaker and captain Dwayne De Rosario, whose season is over following the diagnosis of a grade three MCL sprain in his left knee.
United announced that De Rosario will miss the next 10-12 weeks as a result of an injury suffered while representing Canada in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying loss at Panama on Tuesday.
“DeRo is our captain, a great player and impossible to replace,” D.C. United coach Ben Olsen said in a statement. “With that said, we have talented players that will step up in his absence and this injury will not be an excuse to fall short of goals we set for ourselves as a team at the beginning of the season.”
De Rosario’s absence makes it much more difficult for United to end its four-year playoff drought. Even if he returned ahead of schedule, it would only come very late in the MLS playoffs, not an optimum time for a player to return to the field from a knee injury.
De Rosario, 34, has seven goals and 12 assists (2nd in MLS) this season. The reigning MLS MVP, he has played in all but one of United’s 27 regular season games (25 starts), and he scored his 100th career regular season goal in D.C.’s 2-2 draw with New York last month.
United (12-10-5, 41 points) is one point out of the fifth and final MLS playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven matches remaining. D.C. can improve on a franchise record 13-match unbeaten run at RFK Stadium with a win or tie against New England (7-14-7, 28 points) on Saturday.
“We are a different team when he’s on the field,” midfielder Branko Boskovic said upon learning about De Rosario’s injury after practice on Wednesday. “Now in this moment, we have also good players in the group, but he is the leader.”
Losing the Canadian playmaker will have a dramatic impact. Behind De Rosario in assists are Boskovic, Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon, who have four apiece. Chris Pontius (10 goals, two assists), who was lost for the season exactly one year ago – which helped derail United’s playoff push – could be called to replace De Rosario in the top line. An increasing load is also likely fall into the hands of Boskovic, who is best suited on the team to create offense in the central midfield and who the team was reluctant to lean on early in the season.
“I don’t think it’s a domino effect,” Pontius said. “We gotta insert someone in the lineup, and that person’s got to do their job.”
The MLS roster deadline is Friday, but D.C. United could have a shortage of roster space, salary room, and time to make any changes.
De Rosario is also Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 20 goals, and his absence could also hurt the national team’s chances for reaching the final round of 2014 World Cup qualification. Tuesday’s loss in Panama dropped Canada (2-1-1, 7 points, 0 goal differential) to third place behind Panama (3-1-0, 9 points, +4 GD) and Honduras (2-1-1, 7 points, +2 GD) in CONCACAF Group C with two matches remaining. The top two teams advance.
“Absolutely gutted, to be honest,” De Rosario said on Twitter. “With strong faith and perseverance I will be back wearing proudley the red&white #canmnt… To all my #DCUnited, United fans have no doubt I will soon be back. We have important games ahead and we will overcome…”