By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
After being without star midfielder Marcelo Gallardo for most of the past 2 1/2 months, D.C. United figured to have the Argentine playmaker back on the field for the critical final stretch of the MLS regular season and the beginning of another international tournament.
Instead, the troubled club will have to proceed without him for at least two more weeks.
Gallardo has returned to Argentina to see a specialist about ailments related to a sports hernia, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him all of July and most of last month. He played 105 combined minutes in three recent games, but was not in uniform for Saturday's 2-2 tie with Dallas because, according to club officials, he had an illness and a sore ankle.
Yesterday, the team announced that Gallardo has an adductor strain, which affects the thigh and groin area. He will embark on a new rehabilitation plan and miss at least four matches, starting with tonight's CONCACAF Champions League opener against Saprissa of Costa Rica at RFK Stadium.
"We have exhausted all resources to try and get him back," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "That is the next step."
Gallardo, 32, has not played regularly since June, when United enjoyed a six-game unbeaten streak. He underwent surgery in late July for a sports hernia, a groin injury common among soccer players. Initially expected to return within a few weeks, his comeback was delayed until late last month, when he made a late appearance against New York. He then played the final 10 minutes of the U.S. Open Cup and started a league game at San Jose on Sept. 6.
"Whether it was the grind of this season or he came with it" when he signed with United last winter, Soehn said, "that is unclear. But it doesn't change the fact he is not available right now."
Gallardo was the first United player acquired through the designated player rule, which allows teams to sign stars to contracts outside normal league guidelines. As such, he is, by far, the highest-paid player in club history with total earnings of $1.9 million this season. According to two sources familiar with his MLS deal, his contract is guaranteed next year, as well. In all competitions, United is 9-7-3 when he has played and 7-8-1 without him. Gallardo has appeared in 14 of 24 league games and is fourth on the team in goals with four and tied with four others for fifth in assists with three.
Gallardo's absence could not have come at a worse time for United, which, at 10-11-3 and six games remaining, is in a battle for one of the final playoff berths. To compound matters, the club is faced with six matches in seven weeks in group play of the Champions League, an inaugural tournament modeled after the prestigious European event of the same name and involving some of the top clubs in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Gallardo is not the only injury concern. Midfielder Joe Vide (hamstring) remains out, defender Gonzalo Peralta (hamstring) does not expect to play tonight, midfielder Ivan Guerrero (quadriceps) is questionable and forward Jaime Moreno said he has some swelling in a knee and might be a game-time decision.
Midfielder Fred and forward Luciano Emilio, who were not available until the second half last Saturday because of hamstring and groin injuries, respectively, will probably play significant minutes.
With the congested schedule, medical issues and playoff chase, United seems likely to prioritize league play and make the best of the Champions League with a mix of regulars and reserves.
"We have to see where we are and what is more important," Moreno said. "That is Tommy's job to see what is going to be best for players; maybe he is going to have to rest some players. . . . Your body can take it only so much. At one point, they are going to hit you and you are going to get hurt pretty bad. But we have to keep going; we don't have a choice."
United Note: Ryan Miller, a rookie defender from Notre Dame, was signed to a developmental contract.