Friday Aug 08, 2014

D.C. United’s depth tested

D.C. United's Conor Doyle underwent season-ending knee surgery on August 4, 2014. (Photo: Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- D.C. United’s depth chart is suddenly looking fragile after a string of injuries and a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo last weekend.  

Conor Doyle became the latest casualty when he underwent season-ending knee surgery Monday after suffering an injury in training.

Defender Jeff Parke still hasn’t returned from a foot injury suffered at the end of May, and there’s no sign yet that midfielder Chris Pontius will return at all this season after hamstring surgery. 

Add an increasingly congested calendar, including a CONCACAF Champions League game against Jamaica’s Waterhouse FC on August 20, and D.C. (11-6-4, 37 points) suddenly finds itself walking a tightrope.

“This is going to be a tough month for this team and this organization,” said United midfielder Lewis Neal, who started Sunday rather than playing his typical substitute’s role.  “But if we can come through the end of August, the beginning of September in a similar position to where we are now, then we’ll be standing in a good spot.” 

Sunday’s deciding goal spoke to the challenge of keeping at least second place in MLS’s Eastern Conference during the busiest month of the season.

In second-half stoppage time, left back Taylor Kemp sent an awkward header toward his own penalty area.  Central defender Steve Birnbaum compounded the issue with a weak clearing header that stayed in play.  Houston’s Omar Cummings reached it and picked out Will Bruin for a finish past the stranded Hamid.

With Chris Korb omitted from the squad, Kemp was making his first start of the year.  Birnbaum, meanwhile, had been playing more regularly, but only since Parke’s injury. 

“Steve, first off, has been great the last two months,” United manager Ben Olsen said of the rookie first-round draft pick.  “Of course, he can do better on the play, but he's the type of kid who will learn from his mistakes.”

It was tough on United after weathering the storm in a city where it still has yet to win a league match (nine losses, one draw). 

Fabian Espindola, who hasn’t played since spraining his right MCL in Montreal on June 11, has returned to full training ahead of Saturday’s match at Real Salt Lake, his former club.

United also acquired forward David Estrada from Seattle for some attacking depth on Thursday.

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