By Charles Boehm
D.C. United will look to break their five-game winless skid as they visit the Columbus Crew on Saturday, but they’ll have to do so without star winger Chris Pontius, who strained a groin muscle in Thursday’s training session and is expected to miss at least two weeks of action.
The news is only the latest in a string of setbacks for the Black-and-Red, who find themselves stuck in the MLS Eastern Conference basement with just one win out of their first seven games. Pontius has thus far struggled to match the excellent form he found last season, but his absence is still damaging for an attack which scored multiple goals for the first time all year in last week’s 3-2 home loss to the Philadelphia Union.
It’s also a dispiriting sign for Pontius’ overall health. The Californian’s 2012 campaign was ended by a similar groin injury during United’s playoff run and this latest flare-up may signal a more chronic condition.
Pontius missed nearly all of the 2010 MLS season due to surgery required to fix a torn hamstring muscle and his efforts to break into the U.S. Men’s National Team reckoning have repeatedly been disrupted by health concerns.
In his absence, Panamanian international Marcos Sánchez will likely return to a starting role on one of the wings, with Canadian Kyle Porter a probable selection on the opposite flank. Frustrating striker Lionard Pajoy netted a header last week, and will try to build on that success against a Columbus team with a stingy back line and offensive problems of its own.
But D.C. will need veteran creator Dwayne De Rosario to step up most of all. The Canadian has been sidetracked by injuries and a disciplinary suspension this season and is due for a breakout performance, especially with talented South Americans Rafael and Raphael Augusto waiting in the wings for greater opportunities.
On the other side, the Crew will look to crafty Argentinean playmaker Federico Higuain and the speedy Dominic Oduro to inspire a front line which has scored just two goals in the three games since their 2-1 defeat of United at RFK Stadium on March 23.