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Sporting Kansas City-United Preview
By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- The addition of eventual league MVP Dwayne De Rosario couldn't keep D.C. United from a late-season swoon that ended their playoff hopes in 2011.
With De Rosario set to stay in town for the near future, D.C. will try to end its four-year playoff drought, and a season-opening win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night at RFK Stadium would help get that quest off to a strong start.
After playing with Toronto and New York to start 2011, De Rosario was traded to D.C. on June 27. The midfielder responded to the change of scenery by scoring 13 of his 16 goals in 18 games with the team and finished tied for the league lead with San Jose's Chris Wondolowski.
He won the MLS Golden Boot Award on an assist tiebreaker and later became the first Canadian to be named league MVP, honors that earned the five-time All-Star a contract extension in February.
With his new deal in hand, one of De Rosario's first tasks is helping his team make last season's miserable finish a distant memory. United went 0-5-1 over their final six games in 2011 to finish 9-13-12, seven points behind New York for the final playoff berth.
D.C. hasn't qualified for the postseason since winning the second of its back-to-back Supporters' Shields in 2007. Only Toronto's five-season absence is longer.
United will try to take their first step toward ending that drought against a Sporting Kansas City team that's coming one of its best campaigns in recent years.
After changing its name from the Wizards, Sporting KC overcame a 1-6-1 start to finish 13-9-12 for an Eastern Conference-best 51 points and was one win shy of reaching the league's championship game.
Much of the reason for that poor start was a season-opening, 10-game road stretch - the longest in league history - that was needed while work was completed on its new home, Livestrong Sporting Park.
Sporting KC didn't suffer a loss in the first eight games on their new field, and went 6-0-8 over 14 overall matches for their longest unbeaten streak and the third-longest in league history.
To help build on that success, Kansas City gave an extension to Graham Zusi, who had a team-best seven assists in 2011, and acquired another midfielder, Bobby Convey, from San Jose.
Zusi's status, however, is unknown for this game because of a strained right quad.
"It's nothing too bad," Zusi told the league's official website. "I just don't want to make it any worse. It's a little frustrating, because you always want to be out with the out with the guys and playing, especially leading up to the first game of the season, but I want to be as sharp and fit as possible."
Sporting KC, though, can no longer rely on two mainstays. Former team captain Davy Arnaud was traded to Montreal in November, and forward Omar Bravo signed with Cruz Azul in his native Mexico. Bravo was one of three players to score nine goals last season.
D.C. is expected to have striker Chris Pontius, who broke his leg in September, back for the opener. That would be a big boost as it tries to make up for the loss of Charlie Davies, who returned to Sochaux of the French League after being loaned out.
United also signed Albanian striker Hamdi Salihi as a designated player and should have another designated player, Branko Boskovic, available after the Montenegrin midfielder missed much of last season with a knee injury.
"I feel good, I feel alive. I love the team," Boskovic said. "I think there are some very good players. I'm very happy to be with this group."
United traded for midfielder Danny Cruz from Houston and made two moves in hopes of boosting a defense that gave up the league's fourth-most goals, acquiring Robbie Russell from Real Salt Lake and signing Emiliano Dudar from the Swiss Super League.
Updated March 9, 2012