Sporting Kansas City-United Preview

The addition of eventual league MVP Dwayne De Rosario couldn’t

keep D.C. United from a late-season swoon that ended their playoff

hopes in 2011.

With De Rosario set to stay in town for the near future, D.C.

will try to end its four-year playoff drought, and a season-opening

win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at RFK Stadium

would help get that quest off to a strong start.

After playing with Toronto and New York to start 2011, De

Rosario was traded to D.C. on June 27. The midfielder responded to

the change of scenery by scoring 13 of his 16 goals in 18 games

with the team and finished tied for the league lead with San Jose’s

Chris Wondolowski.

He won the MLS Golden Boot Award on an assist tiebreaker and

later became the first Canadian to be named league MVP, honors that

earned the five-time All-Star a contract extension in February.

With his new deal in hand, one of De Rosario’s first tasks is

helping his team make last season’s miserable finish a distant

memory. United went 0-5-1 over their final six games in 2011 to

finish 9-13-12, seven points behind New York for the final playoff

berth.

D.C. hasn’t qualified for the postseason since winning the

second of its back-to-back Supporters’ Shields in 2007. Only

Toronto’s five-season absence is longer.

United will try to take their first step toward ending that

drought against a Sporting Kansas City team that’s coming one of

its best campaigns in recent years.

After changing its name from the Wizards, Sporting KC overcame a

1-6-1 start to finish 13-9-12 for an Eastern Conference-best 51

points and was one win shy of reaching the league’s championship

game.

Much of the reason for that poor start was a season-opening,

10-game road stretch – the longest in league history – that was

needed while work was completed on its new home, Livestrong

Sporting Park.

Sporting KC didn’t suffer a loss in the first eight games on

their new field, and went 6-0-8 over 14 overall matches for their

longest unbeaten streak and the third-longest in league

history.

To help build on that success, Kansas City gave an extension to

Graham Zusi, who had a team-best seven assists in 2011, and

acquired another midfielder, Bobby Convey, from San Jose.

Zusi’s status, however, is unknown for this game because of a

strained right quad.

“It’s nothing too bad,” Zusi told the league’s official website.

“I just don’t want to make it any worse. It’s a little frustrating,

because you always want to be out with the out with the guys and

playing, especially leading up to the first game of the season, but

I want to be as sharp and fit as possible.”

Sporting KC, though, can no longer rely on two mainstays. Former

team captain Davy Arnaud was traded to Montreal in November, and

forward Omar Bravo signed with Cruz Azul in his native Mexico.

Bravo was one of three players to score nine goals last season.

D.C. is expected to have striker Chris Pontius, who broke his

leg in September, back for the opener. That would be a big boost as

it tries to make up for the loss of Charlie Davies, who returned to

Sochaux of the French League after being loaned out.

United also signed Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi as a designated

player and should have another designated player, Branko Boskovic,

available after the Montenegrin midfielder missed much of last

season with a knee injury.

“I feel good, I feel alive. I love the team,” Boskovic said. “I

think there are some very good players. I’m very happy to be with

this group.”

United traded for midfielder Danny Cruz from Houston and made

two moves in hopes of boosting a defense that gave up the league’s

fourth-most goals, acquiring Robbie Russell from Real Salt Lake and

signing Emiliano Dudar from the Swiss Super League.