As captain of a rapidly sinking D.C. United ship, Dwayne De Rosario's head is inevitably flooded with concerns.
Keeping the players focused presents one challenge. So does reinforcing the fragile locker room unity. And the 2011 MVP has his own declining numbers to worry about — not to mention his peace of mind.
"I've got to keep myself sane first," De Rosario said. "Not going crazy."
That's easier said than done for a club that came within a match of hosting MLS Cup last year but now languishes at 1-8-1, enduring a seven-game losing streak. After a March 9 win extended their home unbeaten run to 19 games, United have dropped four straight at RFK Stadium, where they host Sporting Kansas City (6-4-2) on Sunday.
For De Rosario, a four-time league champion, the task of getting his squad back on track presents an increasingly heavy burden.
"It's important for me to keep the team together," De Rosario said, "because especially in these times you start to see groups form, you start to see everyone pulling away, you start to see a lack of trust between the players, between the players and coaches. And you see a lot of stuff to deal with that's off the field that I've got to make sure doesn't escalate or go too far."
In addition to wearing the captain's armband for United, De Rosario also serves as the centerpiece of their toothless attack, which has netted a league-worst five goals.
There are myriad explanations for United's offensive decline, including a lack of creativity on the flanks, insufficient midfield depth and lackluster play up top. But the question is being asked: Has De Rosario, who Wednesday turned 35, finally lost a step?
Age seemingly has been just a number to the physically disciplined De Rosario. In four full seasons since turning 30, the Canadian has seen his career averages of six goals and five assists balloon to 12 and eight. But coming off a nine-week recovery from a sprained knee ligament in September, he has just one goal and an assist through seven games played this season.
"It's on all of us," said defender Dejan Jakovic, downplaying his compatriot's slow start. "We're struggling as team. You can't put it on him. There are definitely guys who need to step up and make plays, so we're in this together."
As De Rosario noted, United have surrounded him with new pieces and building that chemistry takes time. In the past three games, the withdrawn forward has been paired with three different partners — veteran Lionard Pajoy and newcomers Rafael and Casey Townsend — while injuries have forced a slew of fresh faces into the midfield as well.
And in a 2-1 loss at FC Dallas this past weekend, De Rosario didn't look like a player past his prime, pulling the strings from all over the field and capping his particularly active first half with a driven free-kick strike.
"He's three plays ahead of everybody else, which makes it easier on everybody around him," Townsend said. "Hopefully we can turn it around for a guy like him."
As the club's captain and highest-paid player (making nearly double anyone else on the roster), De Rosario understands his teammates look to him for inspiration during these tough times.
With that responsibility, however, comes the true weight of United's struggles —and De Rosario understands that better than anyone.
"I think that's my job, not only [to feel] the weight on the players, but the weight on the club and the fans as well," De Rosario said. "You have to channel all of that weight in a positive way and make sure the guys understand what's being asked, what's being demanded.
"That pressure has to come from yourself, that demand has to come from yourself before anybody else. Does everybody have that mentality? It could be questioned. But at the same time, that's why I've got to make sure they realize the importance."
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