D.C. United (3-3-2, 11 points) vs. Philadelphia Union (1-4-5, eight points)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.; Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.; Tickets: purchase tickets
TV: The Comcast Network featuring play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas
Game notes (PDF): Click here
Call this one the tiebreaker.
When the Union takes on archrival D.C. United Saturday in a return to PPL Park, it will be a chance for manager John Hackworth and United coach Ben Olsen to have a chance to one-up the other. Since taking over the Union in 2012, Hackworth has taken on Olsen’s United six times with a record of 2-2-2 overall. Conversely, Olsen holds a 3-3-3 all-time in League play against the Union.
Ask both coaches and naturally they’ll downplay it.
Tell you it’s a meaningless stat.
But trust us, it matters.
“I know Ben Olsen and his staff very well, there is no doubt that they are going to come in here and be very motivated,” Hackworth said earlier this week. “They’ve gotten off to a pretty good start and they’re coming down to a rival and feeling like they should’ve gotten more points out of [D.C.’s most recent match against Portland]. I know he’ll have his team well prepared and it’ll be a very tough match.”
United had a four match unbeaten streak snapped in a 3-2 loss to Portland last Saturday and look to get back on track against a Union side that is full of creativity and talent, but extremely frustrated that such positive play hasn’t converted into points. Last year, it was the Union that held the edge, going undefeated in League play (2-0-1), but it was United that ousted the Union out of contention for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in fifth round play.
The look for both teams is nearly identical, with both Olsen and Hackworth beefing up the talent pool on their respective rosters – mostly with young talent. Where the Union can boast Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana, United picked up quality talent in U.S. men’s national teamer Eddie Johnson and workhorse forward Fabian Espindola.
“Their style of play is very similar in that they like to move the ball around and the mobility of their front four (which features both Johnson and Espindola) is tough to deal with,” said Hackworth. “But that’s like most teams in MLS are like and it isn’t something this group hasn’t seen before. I know it’s not going to be an easy task, but we are confident that being at home…we feel like we are due for a quality performance that ends with a positive result and we feel like our fans are due for that kind of performance as well.”
United will be without forward Chris Pontius who still suffers from a hamstring strain, in addition to defender Sean Franklin (right foot injury); midfielder Nick DeLeon is listed as questionable with a right hamstring issue while Johnson, listed as probable, is expected to return after dealing with a hamstring injury of his own. For the Union, only midfielder Danny Cruz is still laboring from an ankle injury, though Cruz did participate in training this week.
This game kicks off yet another three game stretch for the Union who on short rest travel to defending MLS champions Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) followed by a return to PPL Park to take on another Eastern Conference rival in New England (7 p.m., purchase tickets).
“We just have to keep plugging away and hopefully we can get some luck on our side,” said Union defender Amobi Okugo. “We just have to have a complete performance from both sides [offensively and defensively] and hopefully we’ll start pulling together these wins.”
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org