Many were asked, and although no one can put an exact date, game or time on it one thing is for certain: the animosity between the Union and D.C. United is evident.
And perhaps more than any other team the Union will ever play in Major League Soccer.
Union manager John Hackworth couldn’t explain it…
“[United head coach] Ben [Olsen] and I joked about it while we were down in Orlando,” Hackworth said during his weekly press conference. “We don’t know why it’s like this because even though we are rivals, a lot of guys [on both teams] know each other quite well. There is just this animosity and whether it’s a preseason game, a U.S. Open Cup game, or a league game it seems to get the better of both teams.”
Even Olsen himself couldn’t put a finger on it, although much like Hackworth he had no complaints.
“It does seem to get pretty chippy – but that’s okay with me,” Olsen told United’s website this week. “They have been good games.”
There is no disputing that last statement. In the nine previous meetings, (not counting February’s preseason clash), D.C United has won four, the Union have taken three and there have been two draws. Arguably, the best meetings have been a pair of U.S. Open Cup matches held at the Maryland SoccerPlex, with the Union getting the better of United in second half stoppage time last year to advance in the tournament.
“At first I would have said its coincidence, now I just think its proximity and them being an Eastern Conference foe,” said Union captain Brian Carroll. Carroll, who won an MLS Cup with United in 2004, has been a thorn in D.C.’s side as of late scoring two of his three goals as a Union player against United. “We know each other; we are nearby and are somewhat evenly matched. I don’t really know what it is…we just don’t like each other I guess.”
Regardless of the venue, the atmosphere has always been electric. Sunday’s match will be held at RFK Stadium, one of the last remaining multi-purpose stadiums to host an MLS club. With that said, its wide expansive pitch plays well to both teams who like to attack from the flanks. It’s a site however that does add extra elements to have to work through.
“The field [at RFK] is big and it’s traditionally been a good field to play on; we have played there several times and I have been there with the national team a couple times…you get a true game on it,” said Hackworth. “But then you have [United’s supporters group] the Screaming Eagles on one side and they are going crazy. They are right on top of you and it creates this atmosphere that is pretty intense.”
From the first meeting in April 2010, when a hat trick from Sebastien Le Toux gave the Union its first ever win in franchise history to the last meeting in September when a former Union forward scored to lift United there has been no shortage of drama and ever developing storylines.
Expect Sunday’s match to be much of the same.
“They don’t like us and we don’t like them, plain and simple,” said Union defender Sheanon Williams, who got into a heated skirmish with United goalkeeper Bill Hamid during the last meeting at RFK in August. “You get a little bit more excited for these kinds of games and it’s an Eastern Conference game so anytime you can grab points from somebody else and put yourself in a better position in the rankings is very important.”
Ultimately that is where the Union’s collective mindset is at going into this match as success on the road has already been proven attainable this season.
Points at RFK though would make that even sweeter.
“We need to concentrate on our game plan and how we are going to approach the game and right now, what we need to focus on is how to be successful against D.C.,” said Hackworth. We know each other really well and they’re a team that’s having a tough time right now but is much better than their record shows. In our locker room we are already talking about it. We know how tough this is going to be because from the outside people may not be giving them respect, but from our locker room we are giving them a lot of respect.”
Have your own opinion of what spawned this rivalry? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org