2011 MLS MVP could miss game with suspension

D.C. United's opening match of the 2013 season will feel much like its last games of 2012.

Not only will it take place against the Houston Dynamo, who vanquished United in the Eastern Conference finals in November, it also could happen without playmaker Dwayne De Rosario.

The 2011 MLS MVP could be subject to a suspension of one or more matches by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for an alleged head-butt of former teammate Danny Cruz in United's final preseason tuneup against the Philadelphia Union. The incident resulted in a red card for De Rosario, who missed the last third of the 2012 season with a knee injury.

Up next
D.C. United at Dynamo
When » Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where » BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston
TV » NBC Sports Network

"Regardless of the reality of whether he gets suspended or not, we've done it before, and I think we're prepared to do that if that's the case," United coach Ben Olsen said.

Instead of building on the return of one of the league's top playmakers -- De Rosario had seven goals and 12 assists in 26 games last year -- United will be forced to assume the same blue-collar mentality that produced an unlikely seven-game unbeaten streak to close the regular season.

"[De Rosario] brings a different level of creativity and finished product in front of goal, which is second to very few in the history of this league," United assistant coach Josh Wolff said. "On the flip side of it, last year we got to see who we were and learn a little more about some other guys who stepped up to the challenges, and it was a big reason why were as successful as we were down the stretch."

Midfielders Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon are both candidates to shift into De Rosario's central attacking role, but Olsen also could call on a new acquisition, such as veteran John Thorrington or 23-year-old Panamanian Marcos Sanchez, to take over in the middle.

United lost the first leg of the conference finals at BBVA Compass Stadium 3-1, but the game could have had a very different outcome if Andre Hainault's takedown of Raphael Augusto at the top of the penalty box just before halftime had been whistled by referee Ricardo Salazar. Peter Walton, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, which is in charge of MLS referees, said later that it should have been a red card.

Chris Pontius, who left that match after just 12 minutes with a groin injury that occupied much of his offseason, got an immediate surge of energy studying video of the match earlier this week. United was winless in three visits last season to Houston, which went undefeated (11-0-6) in its first year at the new stadium.

"It kind of gets you going a little bit, and that's what I want for the guys, for the team," Pontius said. "You want us to go in there with an edge because that's what you need to do to win at Houston, to take points."