It’s amazing, really, the position D.C. United are in. If they can overcome a two-goal deficit at RFK Stadium on Sunday, a league-best fifth MLS Cup title will be within their grasp. They’ll be playing for that crown from the comforts of home. And barring a setback, they’ll have a fit and healthy Dwayne De Rosario in the mix.
Before reaching that enviable situation, however, United have quite the hill to climb. Entering the second leg of the Eastern Conference final Sunday (4 p.m., NBCSN), D.C. trails the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 score. While De Rosario (MCL sprain) seems poised to play some role, it looks increasingly unlikely Chris Pontius (groin strain) will take part. Brandon McDonald (calf spasms) and Marcelo Saragosa (knee pain) also are questionable.
All of this shines a spotlight on De Rosario. While he has been in full training for a couple weeks, his match fitness remains a concern. So how many minutes can he go?
“We’ve got computer data,” United coach Ben Olsen remarked with a cheeky smile, before noting, “We do, I’m not being sarcastic. We have data that says he’s probably about this many minutes in a real game.”
Here is the game-day roster I think Olsen will deploy:
Starting 11: Hamid; Russell, McDonald, Jakovic, Korb; DeLeon, Saragosa, Kitchen, Neal; Boskovic; Pajoy
Substitutes: Willis, Dudar, Woolard, Augusto, De Rosario, Salihi, Santos
While McDonald and Saragosa have returned to full training and appear ready to go, Pontius has remained sidelined. At this point, United fans should be thrilled if he can make the 18-man roster.
So if Pontius is out, should Olsen consider starting De Rosario? If United want to ignite the fans and put the pressure on Houston by getting an early goal, De Rosario would seem to be their best shot. And playing him from the beginning would ensure the club gets maximum minutes out of the reigning league MVP.
But considering Olsen has preached patience ahead of this second leg (check out my match preview from Friday’s paper), I doubt he’ll do that. In fact, I think he’ll use the same 4-5-1 look he has used throughout these playoffs, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he started the more attack-minded Raphael Augusto over Saragosa, or removed Branko Boskovic to add Hamdi Salihi or Maicon Santos as a second forward.
One player we know will be in the starting lineup is Nick DeLeon, who has scored two of United’s three postseason tallies. In Thursday’s paper, I took a look at the rookie’s playoff exploits.
— Houston midfielders Ricardo Clark (adductor strain) and Adam Moffat (concussion/chest contusion) are questionable. Defender Jermaine Taylor (knee sprain) is probable. Forward Calen Carr (hamstring strain) is doubtful.
— The referee Sunday will be Baldomero Toledo. United will be in all-black, the Dynamo in orange with white shorts.
— The Western Conference champion will be determined Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN when the Los Angeles Galaxy try to protect a 3-0 lead at the Seattle Sounders. If United win the East, the West winner will travel to RFK for MLS Cup. If the Dynamo triumph, Los Angeles or Seattle will host the title match.