Last year, reasons to watch Philadelphia Union and DC United may have been fairly difficult to come by. DC was tied for the fewest points in MLS and the Union finished eight points out of the playoffs.
This is a different season, and there is no shortage of storylines brewing as these two Eastern Conference rivals prepare to face off with the playoffs looming.
A month ago, nobody was looking at the Union or United as playoff contenders. Now they are the two favorites to round out the postseason participants in the east. Philly has done it by dominating the ball, playing quickly through their experienced central midfield trio, and riding Cory Burke’s goalscoring exploits to a three-game win streak (four if you count the US Open Cup semifinal).
On the other hand, DC has relied upon expensive acquisitions, timely returns from injury, and an unbalanced schedule that sees them play nine of their last 11 matches at the friendly confines of Audi Field.
Both teams want to control the game by owning the middle of the pitch, though they also have talented outlets on the flanks.
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Wayne Rooney is very good at soccer, and as he has aged he has leaned into his intelligent side to prop up his body as speed becomes an attribute of the past. Thus far, Rooney has proved extremely dangerous because he can create space for himself off the ball while also drawing defenders toward him by checking into midfield. It’s this great movement both on and off the ball that has made Rooney such a difficult cover for MLS defenses.
Look for Rooney to try and draw Philly’s aggressive center backs out of position early then try to run in behind them once they begin anticipate his dropping movements.
Burke brings the goals
DC United expected Rooney to jump start their offense. Cory Burke showed up in Philly with little fanfare and just decided nobody was going to stop him from scoring goals. Six goals in two months suggest Burke’s decision has met with little resistance.
A knock-on effect of Burke’s success is that Jim Curtin has been able to adjust his front three based on how he wants to attack opponents, with CJ Sapong brought in on the wing for his aerial prowess and ball retention. This creates a flexible line of attackers that can interchange and pin back opposing defenses. Indeed, it is not just Philly’s offense that has hit a rhythm over the past four matches: Philly has given up just one open play goal since they were undone by Mauro Manotas in Houston.
Tune in on Wednesday, August 29 at 8PM EST to see two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference go head to head.