For all the uncertainty the D.C. United back line has gone through in recent weeks, with a plethora of moving parts dictated by injury, fatigue and form, there has been a constant for the team to rely on: Brandon McDonald.
Since returning from a one-game suspension April 14 in a 2-1 win at New England, McDonald has logged every minute for United — the only player to do so during the hectic seven-match stretch. His partner at center back has been a revolving door, with Dejan Jakovic, Emiliano Dudar, Perry Kitchen, Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard filling the role at times. Different players have stepped in and out of the outside back positions flanking him as well.
But game in, game out, McDonald has answered the call in central defense, providing a physical presence and crucial aerial prowess.
"He's been first and foremost healthy," coach Ben Olsen said. "He's the guy who has physically held up through this period. That's a big deal. It's not been an easy stretch. It's been a lot of miles, a lot of games in a short amount of time."
McDonald will again be called upon Wednesday, when United (5-4-3) host the Colorado Rapids (5-5-0) at RFK Stadium. While the Phoenix native is second only to captain Dwayne De Rosario in minutes played this season for D.C., there was some question during preseason of whether he would lock down a starting position.
After acquiring Dudar, a onetime Swiss league defender of the year, the club had three proven players fighting for two slots in central defense. As Dudar (hamstring) and Jakovic (ankle) have struggled with injuries, however, McDonald has emerged as the team's most reliable center back.
"For me, it wasn't necessarily a worry," McDonald said of Dudar's signing. "It was just something where I know that if I go out and do what I'm capable of doing, it's only going to better the team. It's not about competition and those things, but it's just me bettering myself to help the person next to me."
Considering all the defensive uncertainty United have dealt with in recent weeks, McDonald's communication and leadership have become all the more crucial. As some players have shifted to new positions and others have slid from the bench to the starting lineup, much of the organizational responsibility has fallen on McDonald.
"Communication in the back line is one of the most important things," Jakovic said. "And he's a very vocal guy."
One pleasant surprise for United has been McDonald's contributions on the offensive end. After recording an assist in a 3-2 win over the Houston Dynamo on April 28, he notched two in a 2-0 triumph at Toronto FC a week later.
The three helpers already are a career high in a season that has the makings of a banner year for McDonald, who was brought to the nation's capital in a trade with the San Jose Earthquakes last summer.
The move, it's safe to say, has panned out quite well for club and player alike.
"This team, the tradition they have, the history that they have, and just being a part of this and coming out and seeing these fans, it's something that caught me by surprise, honestly," McDonald said. "Seeing the heart and passion of everyone who works for the team and seeing the fans, it's beautiful."
Note: Kitchen is questionable for Wednesday's game against Colorado after an MRI of his right knee came back negative. The defensive midfielder exited United's 1-0 loss at Houston on Saturday in the 28th minute after his knee awkwardly buckled.
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