Carlos Mendes' first season as a member of the Crew has been a frustrating one thus far for the 31-year-old veteran.
In the week leading up to the season opener in Colorado, Mendes pulled his hamstring in training. Multiple setbacks to the initial hamstring injury kept the defender out until May 23, when Mendes started alongside Josh Williams in central defense. The veteran started the next two matches before going down with a sprained right ankle just before halftime at New England on June. Now, Mendes is poised for another return should Robert Warzycha select him for his starting XI on Saturday night against D.C. United.
"Obviously with two separate injuries, it's been a long year," Mendes said after Thursday's training session at Crew Stadium. "My ankle feels good and I'm healthy. Hopefully it can stay like that the rest of the season."
If Mendes plays Saturday, he will face the tough task of containing his former teammate, 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario. The two played together briefly with the New York Red Bulls last season before De Rosario was traded to D.C. in June of 2011.
"I think De Rosario is one of the best players in this league," Mendes complimented his former teammate. "He's a really smart player. He finds the spaces, he can hurt you a lot of different ways. He can play at the highest level. He's a big threat."
De Rosario has tallied five times this season for United, while contrinuting a league-leading ten assists to D.C.'s attack.
"De Rosario has found his form again this year, scoring goals and getting assists," head coach Robert Warzycha said. "Obviously, whoever is going to be close to him has to do a good job of marking him and making sure he can't get anything done."
In addition to De Rosario, Chris Pontius leads the Black-and-Red with 9 goals this season to go with Maicon Santos' 7 tallies and Hamdi Salihi's five strikes. The Crew defense will have its hands full containing the explosive D.C. United attack.
"It's going to be a team effort," Mendes explained. "If we stay compact and don't give them a lot of space as a group, I think it will make everybody's job a lot easier. If they open you up, it's tough to stop them."
"Our shape and how we stay compact is the key to this game, because then we don't give them room to play," Mendes finished.
Offensively, the Crew will look to jump ahead with an early goal in front of the home crowd just as it did against Real Salt Lake and Chicago earlier in the season.
"We're successful when we score the first goal," forward Justin Meram said. "Against Salt Lake, we had the first goal. You look at Chicago, we score the first goal. Then we stayed on them and got a second goal. I think that's a key for this team. When we let up an early goal, I feel like we're chasing the game. When we're not chasing the game, I think we play pretty good soccer."
"As an entire team, we have to make sure that we play well and create our chances," Warzycha added. "It would be nice (to score the first goal), because then we have the whole stadium behind us and it's much easier to play. We have to make sure that we score first."
United will be without starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is serving a one-match suspension for his red card against Houston on Sunday. Veteran right back Robbie Russell could also miss Saturday's match after leaving Sunday's game in Houston with a foot injury.
Second-year 'keeper Joe Willis will start between the pipes, while Chris Korb will likely get the nod at right back for the injured Russell. Willis started United's first nine games of the season in goal while Hamid spent time with the United States U-23 National Team and recovered from an injury sustained in Olympic qualifying. Korb has started seven matches this season after starting in 12 during his rookies season of 2011.
Hamid's suspension and Russell's injury will not have an effect the Crew's gameplan, Meram said.
"(Without Hamid and Russell), they're still a great team," Meram elaborated. "It shows they've got depth, when guys are out, those guys can fill in. Willis, he's had the starting role a little bit this yea, so he's not really necessarily a back-up. He'll come out and he'll be ready to prove to the coaching staff that he's a starting contender. Korb is from Ohio, so he's going to come out strong if he gets the start on the right side. They're still going to be a great team."
"It's going to be a tough battle," the forward finished.
The Crew currently stands in eighth place on the Eastern Conference with 22 points this season, but have played three less matches than leader Sporting Kansas City.