Riding the waves of an MLS season can be tricky. When things are going well, a team can overcome small ripples and continue to ride against the tides ahead of them. But when one thing goes bad, everything else seems to go bad at the same time. The small things are now huge problems and fear sets in. How a club responds to these challenges will determine whether they sink or continue swimming in October.
For D.C. United, 2014 has largely been a rather smooth ride. No matter the injury or setback, the club always seemed to respond with a convincing victory or a strong result on the road. For every player lost to injury, one or two would take their place. Every setback, whether real (Chris Pontius' injury) or perceived (Eddie Johnson being omitted from the U.S. men's national team), were overcome with a convincing result (the 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution) or fantastic performance (Luis Silva's return to form against the Montreal Impact).
But over the past two weeks, United's ride to the playoffs has been met with a hurricane of bad news. Whether it is the play on the pitch (two disappointing losses on the road,) a rash of injuries (too long to list,) or all things Eddie Johnson, the team seems to be mired in a very bad stretch.
Now the good news is that the team will have plenty of opportunities to turn around their recent run of form. But the bad news is with a lack of squad depth, the club will be stretched to their limits. But this happens to every team and the good teams are the ones that are able to meet these challenges and overcome them. Despite popular opinion, winning silverware in Major League Soccer is not easy. It takes a certain level of determination and luck. So far, D.C. United have had luck on their side. But the real question is do they have the right amount of determination to finish off what has already been an exceptional season?
On to the week's news and notes:
Jeff Parke injury update
D.C. United defender Jeff Parke underwent successful ear surgery this week to remove a peri lymphatic fistula in his inner left ear. Parke, who has been out of action since the club's 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City in late May, played a critical role in establishing the club's defensive dominance earlier in the season. Parke started all thirteen matches before the injury occurred.
For those who are not in the medical field, a peri lymphatic fistula is a small tear in one of the membranes that connects our inner ear and our middle ear. The inner ear is filled with a substance called perilymph while the middle ear is filled with air. A tear in the connection between these two parts of the ear can cause perilymph to leak into the middle ear, causing loss of hearing and migraines.
While the surgery is very delicate and difficult, the club does expect Parke to return this season. Given the lack of depth right now on the back-line (the club just lost left-back Chris Korb with a hamstring injury for a month and center-back Nana Attakora is still out with migraines) getting Parke back for at least the playoffs would help.
Chris Pontius injury update
The other news that came out this week that can be perceived as positive for United is that midfielder-forward Chris Pontius has increased his training in preparation for a possible return this season. Pontius, who has been out all season with a hamstring injury, has scored 27 goals with United since being drafted by the club in 2009. D.C. United has an excellent piece posted right now explaining his training experience and what it has been like for him watching the club's resurgence in 2014.
D.C. United could really use some additional support up front. With forwards Michael Seaton gone for a month with quadriceps injury and Conor Doyle out for the season and forward Fabian Espindola coming back from his own MCL injury, the team is thin up front. The club has had to rely on midfielders Chris Rolfe and Luis Silva up front. Forward Eddie Johnson has thus far not provided the scoring touch that landed him his Designated Player contract (four goals in 2014). While the trade for forward David Estrada will help, his experience in MLS is limited. Over the span of four seasons with the Seattle Sounders, Estrada had just five goals in 18 appearances, three of which came in one match in 2012. So having Pontius back in some form would help.
But the club needs to be cautious with Pontius. Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from (especially for field players) and Pontius now has a history with the injury. The injury he sustained in pre-season this year is his second in as many years on his left hamstring. He has also torn his right tibia in 2010 and has had various other smaller injuries throughout his career.
Perhaps Pontius could be a difference-maker in the playoffs as late substitute. But the eye should be towards a strong 2015.