Philadelphia Union (6-11-4, 22 points) at D.C. United (10-7-5, 35 points)
What: MLS Regular Season; When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Where: RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
TV: ESPN2 with play-by-play announcer Adrian Healey and color analyst Taylor Twellman
Radio: None; Online: MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday
Sports rivalries are great things. They can make teams play harder and reach levels of competitiveness that they otherwise might not have touched. The only thing better than your regular old sports rivalry is a local sports rivalry, which is exactly what the Philadelphia Union have this weekend when they travel to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United Sunday night on ESPN2.
For those that don’t believe that the Union vs. United matchup is a rivalry, consider this: the Union’s first ever win was against D.C. United, in Lincoln Financial Field in front of 35,000 fans. If you think United, who was an established MLS powerhouse, weren’t stung by losing to the still wet-behind-the-ears Union, you are sorely mistaken. Add in the fact that the Union are 5-6-3 against United in league play, 2-2-0 in Open Cup play, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown rivalry.
If you still aren’t convinced, just know that in each of their last six matchups, games have been decided by one goal or less (they tied 1-1 in 2013). In their three matchups this year, the winning goals were all scored after the 75th minute, in addition to a player from each team being suspended following the last two games. C.J. Sapong was sent off during their Open Cup matchup on June 30 while Chris Rolfe was suspended after the May 30 game by the league.
“A very good D.C. team this weekend, a team we respect a great deal,” said Jim Curtin at the team’s weekly press conference. “Alvaro Saborio brings a new element, a target forward for them so we’ll have to be ready for them.”
In addition to Saborio, who was recently acquired from Real Salt Lake in exchange for Luis Silva, Curtin expects to see Fabian Espindola starting up top, something that the Union have yet to see in any other their three games against United this year.
“We haven’t really seen Espindola yet so that’s a huge factor,” said Curtin. “When he’s on, he’s as dangerous an attacking player as there is in our league. If Saborio pairs with him, yes, it would be their first time playing together so there would be rust, but there’s quality there.”
Despite having a healthy strike force for one of the first times this season, United, like the Union, have also been hit with the mid-season injury bug.
On Sunday, D.C. will lineup without starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid who is recovering from hand and knee surgeries done in early July. They could also be without Chris Pontius (right calf), Sean Franklin (left ankle) and Michael Farfan (right hamstring), all of whom would be considered in the starting lineup if healthy.
On the Union side, Fernando Aristeguieta looks to be completely healthy and back to game shape, bolstering the depth at forward behind Sapong. Maurice Edu will also be able to return to the lineup after being suspended for last week’s game against Toronto FC due to yellow card accumulation.
The team will be without normal starters Andrew Wenger (concussion) and Richie Marquez (ankle sprain), both of whom are still recovering from injuries suffered against Toronto. The probable starters will be those who filled in for the U.S. Open Cup game on Tuesday, with Ethan White in defense and Eric Ayuk on the wing.
United enter the game on a two-game losing streak, something that will motivate them even more than normal.
“One thing I know about D.C. and a Ben Olsen coached team is that they’re going to compete for 90 plus minutes,” Curtin said. “They’ll fight to the end. They are winners and it will be a very tough task.”
The Union are also coming in off of a loss on the weekend but take solace in the fact that they beat a full strength New York Red Bulls team at home while missing three or four starters and going down a man in the first half. They will now try to repeat their performance against United this weekend in RFK Stadium.
“The grit and the fight that the team showed [against the Red Bulls] is indicative of the fan base and the city and I thought that we represented ourselves well in a tough environment,” said Curtin.
What do you think is the key to success vs. D.C United? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union writer Kyle Basedow at email@example.com.