D.C. United have played their traditional rivals from New York dozens of times over the years. The teams battle for the annual Atlantic Cup trophy, and their fans, on occasion, have even traded fisticuffs in the stands.
But with the arrival of the Philadelphia Union this year, there’s a new gang along the I-95 corridor, one that’s positioned even closer to the nation’s capital. Furthermore, they’ve nabbed a host of familiar faces, with former D.C. boss Peter Nowak steering the expansion side, United alums Andrew Jacobson and Fred featured in midfield and retired winger Josh Gros working as the Union’s team coordinator.
To hear United’s players tell it, that instantly makes the expansion side public enemy No. 1—and there’s been no lack of good-natured trash-talking among fans and players ahead of the clubs’ inaugural meeting in Philly on Saturday afternoon.
“Oh, of course,” cracked Santino Quaranta on Thursday, when asked if the Union have pushed New York down the D.C. hit list. “It’s right up the street. It’s got Peter and Fred and all these guys. Andrew—you think Andrew Jacobson is going to have a foul or two [on Saturday]? He might have a foul.”
Boasting, graphic language and threats of mild violence have already been flowing between the friends on either side of this new rivalry. Quaranta says he and Fred have been exchanging text messages every day and even the Brazilian’s younger brother, Júnior da Silva, who is currently on trial in D.C., may find himself in the line of fire as a result.
“[Fred] texts me every morning,” explained a grinning Quaranta. “‘I’ll [bleep]-ing kick you,’ I told him this morning. ‘Close your legs,’ he told me. ‘I’m going to kick your brother today in practice,’ I told him.”
Supporters on both sides have had this game, the Union’s first-ever home match, circled on their calendar since it was announced. United expect Saturday’s traveling fan contingent to be one of the biggest in club history and the home side are bracing for more than 30,000 spectators to flock to Lincoln Financial Field, the Union’s temporary home while the construction of PPL Park is completed.
Curt Onalfo’s squad is fully aware of the magnitude of this historic event for the newborn club and its fans, not to mention Nowak, the hard-charging coach who led United to a 2004 MLS Cup title.
“[Peter] is a very competitive guy, as we all know, and he’s going to have his guys fired up,” United assistant coach and Pennsylvania native Ben Olsen said. “A home opener in front of 40,000 at the Linc, it’s going to be a special atmosphere for them, and for our guys. I hope we embrace it and go in there and do what we have to do.”
Some off-field intrigue has added even more spice to the mix. When goalkeeper Troy Perkins returned to the league over the winter, Philadelphia were next in line in the allocation draft and Nowak held his old club to ransom for the right to select Perkins, extracting Fred, a SuperDraft pick and allocation money in exchange.
The tables seem to turn this week as the Union sought to acquire the rights to former United striker Luciano Emilio, but D.C. want to make the most of their leverage and are haggling for the best possible compensation.
“We are speaking with multiple clubs interested in acquiring the rights to Luciano,” United general manager Dave Kasper told MLSsoccer.com via e-mail. “Luciano is a proven striker in MLS and we will continue to weigh all of our options.”
According to Washington Post reports, D.C.’s tactics have infuriated the Brazilian, who finds himself in limbo despite his stated preference to join Nowak in Philly. But Emilio’s situation is only the appetizer served ahead of this weekend’s main course.
“They’re going to be ramped up and it’s going to be a really emotional game,” United midfielder Brandon Barklage said, “but I think we’re looking forward to the challenge.”