D.C. United is trying to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but doing so without reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario could prove difficult.
Playing its first game since losing De Rosario for what may be the rest of the season, scuffling United tries for its first season sweep of the visiting New England Revolution in 15 years Saturday night.
D.C. (12-10-5) entered July in first place in the East but has dropped to sixth after being limited to nine goals during a 2-5-2 slump. Things aren't about to get any easier without De Rosario, who's expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks with a sprained left knee suffered Tuesday with the Canadian national team.
With seven goals and a team-best 12 assists, De Rosario had been involved in nearly half of United's 43 goals.
"We feel for him, he's our brother and teammate," goalkeeper Bill Hamid told the team's official website. "He's an unbelievable player and an unbelievable teammate, but we have to keep looking forward. We have a job to do right now ... we have playoffs to get to."
Sitting one point behind Columbus for the fifth and final East playoff berth, D.C. will need others to step up. Midfielder Branko Boskovic is a candidate to fill in for De Rosario.
"We don't need anybody doing an unbelievable job, we just need everyone doing their job," said Chris Pontius, who signed a long-term extension Friday. "It's an opportunity for some of the guys who have seen DeRo lead the team and watched him do it."
United have matched their longest winless streak of the season, losing 1-0 to Real Salt Lake on Sept. 1. They're 0-2-1 in the last three matches.
United had lost five straight meetings with the Revs before winning both this year, taking the most recent one 3-2 at home May 26. D.C. hasn't swept a season series from New England since taking four matchups in 1997. United also won both playoff meetings that year.
The Revs (7-14-7) ended an 0-7-3 stretch that was the longest winless streak in team history with a 2-0 victory over Columbus on Sept. 5.
"It wasn't the prettiest, but it was aggressive and it was persuasive, meaning we got in on challenges and we worked hard," coach Jay Heaps told the team's official website. "That's the key going forward. It's all 11 men, from the goalkeeper to the forwards, defending and fighting for everything."
Time, though, has all but run out on New England, which will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss.
After missing the May matchup with a left ankle injury, Clyde Simms is looking forward to making his return to Washington. He spent his first seven seasons with D.C. before signing with New England in the offseason.
"I think it'll be a little bit emotional," he said. "I'm excited that we're coming off a win and have a little bit of momentum going in there.
"It's going to be a hard-fought game. ... They're going to be fighting, but I think there's a lot of pressure on them. If we hit them early, I think that'll start to wear on them a bit."