Alex Caudana, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Life is full of questions, some easy, some hard. And as D.C. United prepares for its biggest game of the season, squaring off against Houston Sunday, one of the toughest questions to be answered is who will comprise the starting lineup?
Under normal circumstances, with a healthy team, this would be a pretty straightforward answer for D.C. United's Head Coach Ben Olsen. With three of United's starting 11 down with injuries, however, a question mark still remains. "We're still patching things up, figuring out what we got to go with. But I think we have had a good week of training," Olsen said. "It's good to get our legs back."
While Brandon McDonald and Marcello Saragosa are nursing injuries, the biggest question of all seems to be whether leading scorer Chris Pontius will play in this weekend's match-up.
"(We're) still evaluating. (Pontius) is definitely injured, and we've got to see where he is at and be very smart. We can't afford to pull anybody out early in this game," Olsen explained.
In last week's first game of the two-leg Eastern Conference Final, Pontius injured his groin taking a free kick early in the first half against Houston, forcing him to take an early exit from the match.
Unfortunately for United, Pontius' early exit was not the worst of it for D.C., as Houston scored three second-half goals to come away with 3-1 win and a two-goal aggregate advantage.
What does this all mean for DC United? They need to win Sunday's game by two goals to force overtime. (A three-goal lead wins the series for D.C.). If they fail, D.C.'s stellar season is over.
D.C. fans can take heart in some encouraging news though. United might get some reinforcements Sunday in the form of Dwayne De Rosario, who is close to coming back from the injured list.
"He's healthy and ready to go. It does seem like a game you might want to use a guy like Dwayne DeRosario. He still knocks on my door every morning and tells me he's ready," Olsen says.
For now, for starting lineup, it's all about physical fitness.
"I think we would be very pleased if we went into overtime. You have to have the majority of your guys ready to go for that duration. If you make too many subs early, it can affect what you need to do down the stretch," Olsen strategizes.
Despite the uneasiness surrounding the starting lineup and healing injuries, Dwayne De Rosario said this week in training, his teammates have been positive and preaching patience.
"We have to get one (goal) first. Once you get one, playing at home, everything will follow with the momentum," he said.
Aside from that initial goal-scoring target, defense is critical for United. In fact, the first goal scored in Sunday's game could mean life for D.C. or a series-clincher for Houston. So what makes United believe a comeback is possible? Assistant Coach Chad Ashton said it best, "(The team), I mean all you have to do is watch themů You see the fight, you see the character. This team has a never say die attitude."
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