Most needed is midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, who has returned to D.C. after a two-week visit to his native Argentina to speed his recovery from sports hernia surgery. His numbers of four goals and three assists in 14 MLS games is nothing to rave about, surely, but any touch of class he can add to United's midfield is a plus.
Gallardo is not expected to play Wednesday night against Cruz Azul of Mexico in the CONCACAF Champions' League, though anything less than a win effectively knocks D.C. (0-2-0) out of the competition. He may be pressed into service Saturday in a crucial home match against Chivas USA for which offensive catalyst and leading scorer (10 goals plus nine assists) Jaime Moreno is suspended.
"I hope to play a few minutes on Saturday, but don't think I'll play tomorrow," said Gallardo on the team's Web site, BehindtheBadge.com. "It was really hard to watch the team go through that and not be able to help."
Gallardo hasn't played since a 2-1 loss to San Jose Sept. 6. Including that match, D.C. has lost five and tied one of its last six games in all competitions. Its record (10-13-3, 33 points) leaves it one point out of the eighth and final playoff slot with four games left to play.
In the same position, literally, as D.C. is FC Dallas, with an 8-9-9 record and the same point total, and the same placing, fifth, in the Western Conference as United is in the East. Its 3-0 thrashing of D.C. Sunday at Pizza Hut Park gives it the tiebreaker edge over D.C. on head-to-head results, since the teams tied their only other meeting, 2-2, two weeks prior.
Dutch midfielder Victor Sikora is set to come off the injured list this week after missing more than a month and while he certainly didn't arrive to the same hoopla as did Gallardo, FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman has been using alternatives on the left flank in his absence. Dax McCarty and Anthony Wallace saw time on the left side before Hyndman handed the slot to Marcelo Saragosa for the past two games.
"He came to make a name for himself and to improve his opportunities to play for the future," said Hyndman of the 30-year-old. "I think he's a competitor and I think he's one of those guys that I thought would be a really positive influence for the younger players. I think he has but has been limited since he hasn't been out here."
In just his second MLS game Aug. 23 against Kansas City, Sikora suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee and hasn't played since. Without him, FC Dallas has hung tough in the playoff race and ratcheted up the importance of its next two games against San Jose Thursday and Oct. 11 versus Toronto FC. Those are its final home league matches of the season.
One other notable injury absence is perhaps the most significant, but in the short-term, the least important. Eh?
MLS assist leader and MVP candidate Guillermo Barros Schelotto has missed three games with a hamstring strain, and in those three games, the Crew has tied Toronto FC, 1-1, and beaten New York (3-1) and New England (1-0) to take command of the Eastern Conference as well as the Supporters' Shield race. It is also the only team to clinch a playoff spot.
In his last game, he logged a goal and two assists in a 4-0 thumping of the Revs and to extend an incredible streak of scoring or assisting on 10 consecutive Crew goals. That streak ended when Jason Garey scored in the 90th minute from a Pat Noonan assist, but since Schelotto had been replaced seven minutes earlier, technically the streak is still alive.
The streak may or may not be tested Saturday when the Crew hosts the Galaxy, as Schelotto is still listed as questionable, but Coach Sigi Schmid won't be on the bench against his former team.
Schmid will serve a one-game suspension for his dismissal last week in the 1-0 victory over the Revs; Schmid protested bitterly when keeper Will Hesmer was booked for dissent after the goalie had collided with Taylor Twellman, who attempted to bicycle-kick a high ball as Hesmer punched it clear.
The top three teams in each conference qualify automatically, with the seventh and eighth spots based on overall points regardless of conference placing.