If D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon looked exhausted inthe moments after Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against New York, it was with goodreason. Still recovering from thevirus that kept him out of Saturday’s contest in Montreal, the rookie playedall ninety minutes at outside midfield – arguably the game’s most physicallydemanding position.
“My legs were pretty heavy, I’m not going to lie,” DeLeonadmitted after notching a goal and an assist. “It really started to kick in around the 60th or 65thminute."
Right as DeLeon was tiring, he made one of the biggest playsof his young career. Given spaceon United’s right flank, the 22-year-old picked out a streaking Dwayne DeRosario. The reigning league MVPadded a simple nod to DeLeon’s perfectly placed long ball, as D.C. went aheadin the 68th minute.
For the University of Louisville product, the pass was asimple matter of payback. In the21st minute, De Rosario had provided the service as DeLeon scored the fifthgoal of his stellar debut campaign. With the tally, he tied Freddy Adu (2004), Andy Najar (2010) and SantinoQuaranta (2005) for most goals by a rookie in club history.
“He goes about his professionalism in the right manner andthat’s why you are seeing those results,” noted De Rosario when asked aboutDeLeon’s performance. “I think itshowed tonight coming off the sickness. Usually when you are sick and there is such short turnover for a game,you are still a little bit weak. But we saw that effort and his resilience to overcome in his performancetonight.”
Just five days ago, DeLeon was in bad shape. The rookie felt a sore throat coming onwhile traveling with the team to Montreal last Friday, but went to bed thinkinghe’d be recovered in time for Saturday’s match. Later that night however, DeLeon awoke in a full sweat – andby morning the symptoms of a fast-moving virus had worsened.
After D.C.’s team walk, the club’s coaching and medicalstaff were forced to make a difficult decision. For his own good – and the health of the entire group - DeLeonwas effectively quarantined. He wouldwatch United fall to Montreal from his hotel room
“I didn’t know how long he had in him,” Head Coach Ben Olsensaid after Wednesday’s draw. “Butwe are a little thin out there right now and he pushed himself pretty hard.”
The breakthrough performance was the latest in a string ofsolid outings for DeLeon. He hastwo goals and an assist this month – and that doesn’t include the dazzling runthat set up Chris Pontius’ game-winner against Columbus on August 4.
“I thought I was going to get called out sometime in thesecond half,” DeLeon acknowledged. “I wasexhausted out there. That’s whenyou have to really push through it and I think I did a pretty good job of thattonight.”