Whether it is because of geographical location, recent history, or player connections, there does not seem to be a need for extra incentive when D. C. United and the Philadelphia Union play each other.
“Open Cup, preseason, or league game, this rivalry with DC is real,” said Union head coach John Hackworth. “It is always going to be feisty. I would be surprised if we finish 11 v 11. I hope it is 11 v 11. I hope it is a great soccer game with lots of goals, but that may be unrealistic.”
Union and United often combine for intense matches and the same is expected on Wednesday night for the U.S. Open Cup fourth round match at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Last year the Union eliminated United in the fourth round in a match decided in extra time and with a player for each team sent off with a red card.
In late February the Union and United tangled in a preseason match. United won the match 2-0, but it ended up impacting the start of the regular season. There was a scuffle between Dwayne De Rosario and Danny Cruz. De Rosario was suspended for the first two regular season games for a head butt on his former teammate.
“As an athlete or a coach you want games to mean something,” Hackworth added. “It is on the line with this when it is win or go home. Other times it is the respect factor or the bragging rights In this case there is a lot of that going on. We talk about the fine line between being emotional and then also trying to be composed.”
After a difficult first three months in the MLS campaign and that may be an understatement, United is starting to show the necessary steel and emotional stability to move forward. United survived an upset bid in the third round by beating third-division Richmond on penalty kicks to get to this point and is coming off a satisfying 0-0 draw in league play.
On Saturday on the road against New England, United stood up to a Revolution team that was brimming with confidence. It can be viewed as a small step forward for the Black and Red. The Revolution had nine goals in their previous three matches, but United did not bend. More importantly United did not concede an early goal.
In 11 of 14 regular season matches this season United has conceded the first goal. Already facing a struggle to score goals, it is made life even more difficult playing from behind. In United’s last meeting against the Union in April at RFK Stadium, the visitors enjoyed a 2-0 lead after the first 11 minutes. United did respond with multiple goals in the same game for the only time this season, but lost 3-2.
“We want concentration; we want to make teams earn goals,” said United head coach Ben Olsen “We would like to start accomplishing some things on the other end – scoring more goals. But it’s been awhile since that’s clicking so we just keep working on that part. But the defense has to, in the meantime, continue to put shutouts for us to get results.”
Ethan White, after being a fixture in the starting lineup in 2011, has found his way back in the rotation this season and seems to have replaced Brandon McDonald in central defense. White has been paired with Daniel Woolard in the middle, with Chris Korb and James Riley serving on the outside.
Alain Rochat, who was just acquired from Vancouver, might eventually take over the role at left back, but he is not available for the Open Cup game against Philadelphia. Rochat’s registration remains with the Canadian Soccer Association until the next international transfer window when it will be moved to US Soccer. The defender will be eligible for Open Cup play as early as August 7 if United should advance.
While United feels like it is heading in the right direction on defense, it is more of a slow crawl on offense. In the 0-0 draw with the Revolution Carlos Ruiz worked up top with Chris Pontius. Ruiz is in Guatemala for a testimonial match to celebrate the end of his national team career. Still United is encouraged on attack with Pontius, Nick De Leon and now John Thorington healthy.
“We’re getting forward, sometimes we’re getting unlucky, and we’re barely missing the frame or missing the final pass.” White said.” I think now it’s just getting our chemistry going. . Now it’s just us getting in the rhythm and putting the ball in the net.”
The Union will enter Wednesday’s match with confidence from their last league win. A 3-0 win over the Columbus Crew was notable because the Union were able to secure the three points without a goal from Jack McInerney. With 10 goals this season, McInerney is having a breakout season.
Sebatsian Le Toux is back with the Union after time in New York and has engineered the offense with 6 assists. Conor Casey has returned to full health and gives the Union a strong target to play off of on the front line. Oh and it is Open Cup play, the Union’s Brian Carroll has scored two goals against his old team in the tournament.
“I think it is going to be a hard game,” Hackworth added. “I think it is going to be an emotional game. I think DC will put everything they have to winning the game. We will have to make sure that we match and exceed all of those things.