D.C. United takes another hit, as Chris Pontius goes down with injury


Chris Pontius, shown here Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, injured his groin in practice on Thursday and will miss Saturday’s game against Columbus. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

A week rarely passes without fresh anguish for D.C. United. Defeats have mounted. Dreary, disjointed performances have spoiled the spring. And to compound the anguish, injuries to the midfield have dented Ben Olsen’s alternatives.

The latest setback: Midfielder Chris Pontius will not play in Saturday night’s match in Columbus after injuring his groin in practice Thursday, Olsen said.

Asked when Pontius might return, Olsen said, “I’m not sure.” Through a club spokesman, Pontius said Friday that he did not want to comment.

United is idle next weekend before facing four matches in 18 days.

Like the team, Pontius has not met expectations this season, failing to replicate the dynamics and grace that earned him an all-MLS Best XI selection and U.S. national team consideration. A hamstring injury ended his 2012 campaign prematurely and forced him to decline a U.S. call-up in January.

Neither Pontius nor captain Dwayne De Rosario, the club’s most potent attackers, has scored this year. United (1-5-1) has posted just four goals, suffered four shutouts and has not scored in three away games.

With Pontius sidelined, Olsen might turn to Marcos Sanchez, who missed last weekend’s loss to the Philadelphia Union with a sprained ankle. He trained in full all week.

Taylor Kemp, a first-round draft pick from Maryland who has been on loan to the third-division Richmond Kickers, accompanied the team to Ohio for midfield reinforcement. Kemp is a defender with attacking traits who could provide cover on the left flank, if necessary.

Nick DeLeon (hamstring), John Thorrington (knee) and Lewis Neal (groin) remain out with long-term ailments.

“I have faith in the talent level of this group, even with a couple of injuries, even with Chris Pontius out,” Olsen said. “I have faith in them that they have the mentality to win. It hasn’t always showed up, but I certainly have faith in them to do that.”

Olsen questioned United’s mentality last week after the team conceded two goals in the first 11 minutes. United responded with vigor, but the damage had been done in what became a 3-2 defeat.

Olsen and the players said they remain upbeat and positive, and from all appearances, the locker room seems unified. But with four consecutive losses and a five-game winless streak, the team could soon reach the tipping point.

“The one thing you hope doesn’t happen is hitting the panic button,” veteran defender Robbie Russell said, tapping a wall outside the locker room. “You want guys to have confidence in what they are doing and what Benny wants us to do. It’s on us as players to do it.”

Russell, 33, elaborated in metaphysical terms.

“The panic button doesn’t exist — it is all self-imposed. What is the panic button? Is everyone going in separate directions, doing their own things, thinking, ‘Oh, I know what is best’? The panic button is a bad thing, something that shows division. If we can all stay on the same page and do what the coaches want, hopefully we will start getting the results.”

Olsen suggested he would retain the frontline tandem of De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy (two goals), with Rafael and Carlos Ruiz left in reserve. Casey Townsend, though, was called up from Richmond last weekend and was set to make a late-game appearance against Philadelphia when Olsen changed course.

“For now, I have a lot of forward options and I am going to stick with them this weekend,” Olsen said. “If that continues to not be the solution, then [Townsend] will get his shot.”

United had a good week of workouts, but as Olsen noted, “It’s not about the week; it’s about the weekend.”

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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