Set Pieces: DC Demise, MLS on the Rise

A round-up of Union, MLS and other soccer news

Ahead of Sunday’s Union-United tilt at RFK Stadium, The
Goalkeeper takes look back to when D.C. United dominated Major League Soccer, mentioning in the
process that
the Sons of Ben have already surpassed far more established supporters clubs, including the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava.

The weight of United's rich tradition appears to have been one factor that led to the hasty dismissal of former head coach Curt Onalfo after just 18 league matches.

You’ll have to check back soon for philadelphiaunion.com’s
preview of the match, but here’s Goal.com’s to hold you over.

Sunday will be another reunion for four members of Maryland's 2005 NCAA title winning squad, Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz and assistant coach Rob Vartughian, along with United midfielder Stephen King and defender Marc Burch. King has yet another connection to the Union, having played with Sebastien Le Toux in Seattle last season, while Burch went ahead and called the upcoming match a 'must win.'

Danny Mwanga will look to chip away at the four goals he
needs to tie Damani Ralph’s rookie record of 11, and now ESPN.com is
chiming in to declare the 19-year-old a runaway favorite for Rookie of the
Year.

The Union won’t be home until September 1 -- when they’ll face Mexican power Chivas
de Guadalajara
followed by the Kansas City Wizards on September 4 -- but fans may
want to consider public transportation for their next trip to PPL Park after
one fan’s review.

Philadelphia's captain Danny Califf had plenty to say about his club on the latest KYW-PSP podcast. While the Union's playoff hopes are grim at this point, the defender thinks there's still an opportunity to end the season on a positive note.

The Union are certainly keen to improve their position in the standings, but recent signee and Temple product J.T. Noone is thrilled simply be listed on the expansion side's roster.

The rivalry between Philadelphia and D.C. will intensify when both clubs are in contention for the playoffs, something that can only help a league with a growing number of rivalries between clubs in close geographical proximity. While LA-New York isn't one of them, the star-power the two sides are trotting out these days makes it one of the best showcases of MLS.

The rivalry has been fueled by New York's recent additions of Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, and one writer thinks an influx of foreign talent is just what the doctor ordered for a league seeking to become a major player on the world soccer stage.

To further jumpstart the recent trend of big-name additions, MLSsoccer.com thinks the league should look in the direction of a Brazilian superstar.

Another option is bringing home some Americans who are currently abroad, with Union beat writer Shane Evans partaking in the debate.

With expedited growth comes new -- well, not entirely new -- issues, ones that the league will have to carefully monitor to ensure the top-flight of American soccer continues to follow a consistent upward trajectory.

Adding international stars is one way to advance the league, but the more obvious method is expanding to new markets, something MLS has done, remarkably, every year since 2004 (although the addition of the Houston Dynamo in 2006 created a temporary loss of the San Jose Earthquakes). The next two additions, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, are ramping up for their 2011 arrivals, with the Whitecaps in particular trying to get creative to circumvent the MLS SuperDraft.

The Whitecaps' efforts to sign 16-year-old Omar Salgado, who has been training with Chivas de Guadalajara for two years, hit a snag, however, with the Portland Timbers jumping in to take advantage of being on the southern side of the US-Canada border.

The Timbers have been making news on the stadium front as well, and the club's chief operating officer is making claims that may not sit well with Union fans and the Sons of Ben.

In closing, if you're looking for a soccer-related movie to watch over the weekend, one SI.com writer doesn't think you can do any better than The Two Escobars

philadelphiaunion.com featured content:

Watch: United Preview

Union, United Looking to Turn Seasons Around

Hackworth Expects Tough D.C., Despite Standings

Califf: We Have the Talent to Win Now

Le Toux in Midst of Record-Breaking Season

Fred Excited for Return to D.C.

Union Focused on Themselves vs D.C.