Philadelphia Union (9-9-11, 38 points) at D.C. United (14-9-6, 48 points)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match
When: Saturday, 3 p.m.; Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
TV: NBC Sports Network featuring play-by-play announcer John Strong and color analyst Kyle Martino
It’s a rivalry, sure.
But this weekend, the mindset is more about pulling three points from a red hot D.C. United team right now. In a short amount of time, the hatred between Philadelphia and D.C. on the field has been nothing short of intense.
From fights to both players – and coaches – getting ejected, this rivalry has always been one of the best in its brief stint in MLS. However this weekend, the mindset for this Union collective is finishing a strong month of September with three points from a completely revamped United side.
“D.C. is a good team, but first and foremost we need the three points with only five games to play,” defender Amobi Okugo said earlier this week. “It’s a national TV game, rivalry game so all the storylines are there…but we are looking past all that and seeing this one as the opportunity to get these three points and get ourselves back into the playoff picture. If it means we have to take on a rival to do so on the road well, then that’s what we have to do.”
United is a completely different team from the one that faced the Union earlier this season, but then again – so is the Union. Under interim manager Jim Curtin this is a side that has legit playoff aspirations.
United know that. Earlier this week, assistant coach Amos Magee told DCUnited.com:
“Since [the Union] made their coaching change, they’ve been flying. They added [Carlos] Valdes, who is a top caliber center back and does very well in this league, and they brought in that Algerian goalkeeper [Rais M’bolhi] from the World Cup.”
However with its additions United has only bolstered itself as the class of the Eastern Conference turning a complete 180 from the dismal display just a year prior. Adding key pieces like Chris Rolfe, Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola has proved vital as United look to once again rejoin the postseason.
In this match however, United will be without Rolfe (forearm surgery), but should return Espindola who served match suspension. Also, Chris Pontius who’d been hampered with injuries this season has returned to the fold and could also be a solid pairing with forward Luis Silva, who leads United with 10 League goals this season. Additionally, Eddie Johnson could crack United’s Starting XI. Johnson is shaking off a concussion sustained earlier this season, but he’s a tough striker with speed that can finish – and finish well.
In short: United coach Ben Olsen has a plethora of options.
“Ben’s a friend of mine, but we both want to get a win, we both know we need three points,” said Curtin. They’re [D.C. United] looking to win the East, we’re looking to get above the red line, so it’s going to be a war, another Eastern Conference battle. [Fabian] Espindola had his little injury after his hot streak, he’s now been suspended a game or two. We expect him to be back, when he’s on his game he’s one of the toughest to deal with in the league. Chris Rolfe, an old teammate of mine, is a handful but now that he’s out with the broken arm he makes them look a little different. [Luis] Silva’s in great form, he’s scoring goals for them from a deep spot, he’s a handful playing underneath the forwards. Eddie Johnson is a wild card, too, with the concussion.”
Saturday’s match will feature a pair of tough defensive teams, but keep an eye on the goalkeepers as United’s Bill Hamid is one of MLS’ best goalkeepers right now. This one is a matchup of the U.S. national team pool player hopeful (Hamid) against the two-time FIFA World Cup veteran (Mbolhi).
Hamid enters with a 1.24 goals against average. Meanwhile, Union keeper Rais Mbolhi is coming off a clean sheet against Houston last Saturday and enters 1-0-1 with a 1.00 goals against average.
Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org