United's Hopes Fade With Gallardo's Injury

A sports hernia and subsequent knee injury limited high-priced midfielder Marcelo Gallardo to 15 games this season, but he will not need surgery.
A sports hernia and subsequent knee injury limited high-priced midfielder Marcelo Gallardo to 15 games this season, but he will not need surgery. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

D.C. United playmaker Marcelo Gallardo will miss the remainder of the MLS season with a knee injury, ending a disappointing year for the first international star acquired by the club under the league's designated player rule.

An MRI exam revealed that Gallardo suffered a Grade 2 sprain of a medial collateral ligament in his left knee Saturday, an injury that typically sidelines a player six to eight weeks. United (10-14-3) has three games left in the regular season and is struggling to reach the playoffs.

Gallardo, 32, was injured during a 3-0 loss to Chivas USA, his first appearance since recovering from a strained adductor muscle that sidelined him almost a month. He was also sidelined about two months in the summer with a sports hernia that required surgery.

"It's just horrendous luck for him and a tough break for us," General Manager Dave Kasper said.

He appeared in 15 regular season games, contributing four goals and three assists, and was available for only five of 14 non-league tournament matches. He will not need surgery and will begin rehabilitation in Washington, Kasper said.

A two-time World Cup player for Argentina and once one of the sport's elite central midfielders, Gallardo earns $1.9 million, by far the largest salary in United history. He was the club's first designated player, a two-year-old tenet that allows MLS clubs to sign high-profile talent outside the normal salary cap restraints.

Brazilian forward Luciano Emilio, in his second year with United, was upgraded to designated player status at midseason and makes $758,857. However, about a quarter of the team's 28-man roster earns less than $20,000.

Gallardo's contract is guaranteed next season, which means he will return to United unless he and the club decide to find a foreign suitor. Only a few MLS players, such as English superstar David Beckham, have guaranteed contracts, but to secure a deal last offseason, United had to promise a long-term, guaranteed contract. The club initially attempted to sign fellow Argentine Juan Sebastián Verón, but when that tentative agreement fell through, United turned its attention to Gallardo.

On Saturday, playing for the first time since Sept. 6, Gallardo made a strong impression for the first 20 minutes but his low fitness level became noticeable and he faded as the match progressed.

"We needed him," Coach Tom Soehn said after a game in which United was missing Emilio (hamstring) and team captain Jaime Moreno (red card suspension). "He probably pushed himself further than he had to. He gave us what he could."

With a congested schedule, a six-game winless streak in league play and a series of injuries and suspensions, United was hoping Gallardo would inspire a late-season revival and guide the club to the playoffs for the sixth straight year. United probably needs to win its final three games -- against the top three teams in the league -- to secure a berth.

Because of injuries, Gallardo, Emilio and Moreno have not started together since June 29.

In Gallardo's absence, United has received mixed results from Moreno and Santino Quaranta in the central midfield role. The club has not scored in the past two league games and was shut out in three recent Champions League matches. United will use a mostly reserve roster for Thursday's Champions League game at Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Meantime, midfielder Fred (hamstring) is unlikely to play Sunday at Houston and Emilio (11 goals) is questionable. Moreno, second in goals with 10 and first in assists with nine, is awaiting a league ruling on his appeal of a two-game suspension, which is to sideline him Sunday.

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