With Dwayne De Rosario set to return from a one-game injury absence, D.C. is hoping that he can help provide the spark necessary to snap the club out of its doldrums for Saturday's rivalry bout with the New York Red Bulls.
De Rosario, who suffered an adductor strain in a scrimmage during D.C.'s bye week, sat out last weekend's 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, a game in which the club's attacking chances were few and far in between. That has been a theme through five games for the club, which is looking to find a rhythm as other clubs in the Eastern Conference stake their early claims to the top spots in the table.
"I was bummed about being out for that game, because I was looking forward to getting back and starting to get a rhythm within the team and working with the new guys we have and getting that understanding," said De Rosario, who enjoyed an unlimited, full training session with the club Thursday for the first time since suffering his injury. "It's still a long season, we've still got a long long way to go, so I'm just being patient and working hard to get that understanding amongst this group."
D.C.'s inability to score has been a multi-fold problem. De Rosario was suspended for the first two games of the season for a preseason headbutt given to Philadelphia Union winger Danny Cruz. Second-year winger Nick DeLeon suffered a hamstring strain against the Columbus Crew a little more than two weeks ago and is set for a few more weeks on the sideline. Those absences and starting striker Lionard Pajoy's inefficiency in front of the goal have been coupled with a team-wide approach that star winger Chris Pontius says has just not been good enough.
"Our movement as a whole team needs to be better," Pontius said. "A lot of guys are just playing the ball and standing, and we make it so easy to defend us."
Pontius has become a marked man, too -- he had a game-high four fouls suffered thanks to Sporting Kansas City's physical approach with him last Friday -- and has just one assist to his name after a career-high 12 goals in 2012.
He'll be looking to replicate his hat trick against New York last April in a game that served as a springboard for D.C.'s 2012 season, as the club followed the 4-1 home victory with a 6-2-0 stretch that set the tone for the rest of the year.
"New York's a different team this year, obviously they're in a little bit of a rut as well," Pontius said. "We always seem to get the best New York team just like we did up there (in a 0-0 draw on March 16). I thought they took it to us pretty well when we played them in New York. We need a bit of revenge, we need to be a little bit nastier than we were up there."
At 1-3-1, D.C. can't afford to drop home games against conference foes like the Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union, the two upcoming opponents, but patience is being preached for a team that was also blanked three times in the first five games last season before finding its attacking way en route to a 53-goal campaign.
"Every year that I've experienced winning a championship, the team has always started out slow," De Rosario said. "We see it every year in this league. Teams that start out slow start to peak toward the end, the teams that peak toward the end usually go on to win it or go far.
"You saw it with us last year. I think you saw it with us the year before as well, obviously we were a little too far behind the 8-ball and that's what we don't want to do this year. We want to stay within striking distance, we don't want teams to get too far ahead of us, so this is an important win, these two games at home are very important to us."