Loss of reigning MVP changes around roles

It's a familiar situation but one in which D.C. United would rather not find itself again.

The team learned Thursday it would be without captain and reigning MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario for the remainder of the year because of a Grade 3 MCL sprain in his left knee. The injury happened during a World Cup qualifier with Canada on Tuesday.

"Absolutely gutted," De Rosario wrote on Twitter.

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One year ago almost to the day, United lost midfielder/forward Chris Pontius to a broken leg, an injury that helped derail a playoff push. But United coach Ben Olsen isn't resigned to the same fate this time around.

"Although you don't replace a guy like this, you move on," Olsen said following the announcement that De Rosario would miss 10 to 12 weeks. "I feel bad for Dwayne. I know what the rest of the season meant to him. ... I think we're stronger mentally, and we have better personnel than we did last year at this point."

But the timing is tricky and difficult. D.C. United (12-10-5, 41 points) is one spot out of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining. The league's roster deadline is Friday, leaving United with little time -- it's already tight on roster space and salary cap room -- for a trade or signing.

"Not too many teams right now are looking to give up 100-goal scorers for a fourth-round pick," Olsen said. "This is who we are, and everybody has to give a little bit more."

De Rosario (seven goals, 12 assists) leaves a huge void on offense, but United players said they're not changing how they play in his absence. They just have to play better.

"For me, in my position, nothing change in my game because every time in the middle ... [having the ball] is my job," midfielder Branko Boskovic (four assists) said. "Sometimes DeRo help me because he comes back when teams have high pressure. I'm going to miss him, but this is my job. I try to give my best to create something for the team."

Ironically, the team has been reluctant for much of the season to lean on Boskovic, who has just nine starts and none in the past five games. Against New England (7-14-7, 28 points) on Saturday, Chris Pontius (10 goals, two assists) likely will replace De Rosario at forward.

"What changes is you don't have a guy that can do really, really special things at any given moment," Olsen said. "But I'm looking for some other guys to raise their game a little bit, me included. Now we're under it a little bit."

Olsen, who built his reputation as a fiercely determined player, will be inducted into D.C. United's hall of tradition Saturday. He's not concerned that his squad will unravel.

"If anything, I think there's a higher percent chance it could jell us," Olsen said. "I don't know if that's going to happen. But I could see that happening more than these guys throwing in the towel. It's not in this group's makeup."