When Dwayne De Rosario was effectively lost for the season earlier this week, the refrain from D.C. United’s players was clear: Someone of DeRo’s ilk could not be replaced. Instead, they argued, an improved collective effort was the club’s only hope of surviving De Rosario’s absence.
In Saturday’s win over New England, the Black-and-Red took the first step towards that end. As with most first steps, it was both nerve-wracking and unsteady - but ultimately, successful.
“It was, gutsy,” Ben Olsen said, searching for the right word to describe D.C.’s 2-1 victory. “The guys pulled together and gutted one out for each other. But again, it wasn’t a good performance. We are not going to replace Dwayne, it’s just not going to happen.”
Saturday’s contest provided plenty of examples to back Olsen’s post-match remarks. Essentially, it took three players to do DeRo’s job. Chris Pontius wore the captain’s armband and provided two game-changing plays. Branko Boskovic and then Lewis Neal occupied the captain’s spot in the lineup.
The trio, backed by a committed group and some last-ditch defending, managed - not to fill the void left by De Rosario - but to help D.C. towards a new identity.
“When DeRo went down, Ben preached all week that everyone had to step up a little more and add a little more to what we were doing,” said defender Brandon McDonald. “That happened today. People were coming in and helping each other when we needed it.”
D.C.’s willingness to play for each other was tested mightily over a chaotic final ten minutes. Seven minutes from time, McDonald dove in front of a Dimitry Imbongo shot after the New England forward found himself alone in front of United’s net. Two minutes later goalkeeper Bill Hamid made a trio of highlight-reel saves, bailing out a defense that allowed both Kelyn Rowe and Benny Feilhaber far too much time to work.
As the contest moved to injury time, the contributions kept pouring in. Making his first appearance since mid-July, Robbie Russell cleared a critical corner kick on D.C.’s back post in the 92nd minute. Less than a minute later, Andy Najar drew a clock-killing foul deep in New England’s end after winning an epic 1-on-1 duel with Revs’ defender Kevin Alston along the sideline.
Against New England, D.C.’s group effort was enough to – at least temporarily - ‘replace’ De Rosario, and also impress him.
“I felt real good about it,” DeRo said after joining his teammates in the locker room. “People came up with big plays, Bill made some big saves and the guys that need to score and create goals and come up with those moments did that tonight. I’m happy the guys got that game - and the win – out of the way.”