Is it rivalry week again already in Major League Soccer? A week after D.C. United’s 2-0 home loss to their “arch rival” New York Red Bulls, the Black and Red are set to welcome their “young rivals” the Philadelphia Union Sunday to R.F.K. Stadium.
Maybe welcome is the wrong word. While the rivalry with the Red Bulls goes back to the days of the MetroStars and includes a memorable playoff series, United is quickly developing an intense history against the Union. The last meeting at R.F.K between the teams was an intense affair last August with nine cards issued including two red cards.
In September Lionard Pajoy scored for United in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia. Pajoy was traded by the Union to United for Danny Cruz. This year in preseason Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath was given a red card for a reckless challenge and then Dwayne De Rosario was red-carded for a head-butt on Cruz. The altercation with Cruz led to De Rosario being suspended for the first two games of the regular season.
“There is this animosity that develops no matter if it is a preseason game or Open Cup game or league games,” said Union head coach John Hackworth. “It seems to get the better of both teams. I would like to think that because we are thinking along those lines and I know DC is thinking along those lines that perhaps some of the craziness that happens is at least is toned down a little and we concentrate on playing a good soccer game.”
United and the Union are teams that need to focus on the soccer and not the emotion. In consecutive 1-1 draws to Columbus and Toronto, the Union believes it left points on the table. United is winless in its last four games and is saddled with a three-game losing streak for the first time since 2011.
“Frustration is normal and anger is normal,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “I don’t encourage it, but it is going to happen and we have to turn that into a positive. We have to make sure we turn our frustration and anger in to real cut throat concentration and clinical finishing. We have to guys that want to make plays and make the difference. If we can do that then we will start to turn this thing around.”
Finishing is the key for United. There are only two goals in six games to discuss for United. Newcomer Rafael Teixeira scored the last goal in a 2-1 loss to Columbus March 23 at home. It was United’s second consecutive home defeat after 17-match unbeaten run on East Capitol Street. United goalless streak is now reached 248 minutes.
“Are we dynamic enough,” asked Olsen. “We’re pretty predictable in the way we go about things. “We’re not getting a lot of opportunities,” Olsen noted. “The ones we’re getting we have to do better with just because we’re not getting 6-7 good opportunities – we’re getting two. We have to do better with those to get us some points while we get out of this tough stretch.”
It was encouraging for United to get De Rosario back from an adductor strain. After missing the 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, he came on for Rafael at halftime against the Red Bulls. Rafael had started the last three games partnered with Pajoy who has United’s other goal this season. De Rosario appears ready to go 90 minutes and that will force Olsen to make a decision at forward.
At the risk of stating the obvious, United needs production from its forwards. Carlos Ruiz is also in the mix. He has come off the bench the last five games. It would be a dramatic change to put Ruiz in the first 11. He has the pedigree with 88 goals in 174 games, but Ruiz had a midweek trip to Panama to accept the CONCACAF President’s Award.
While the Union had to settle for draws in its last two matches, the club is more settled at forward. For a second consecutive match, Jack McInerney and Conor Casey formed the Union strike force, both playing the entire 90 minutes. Against Toronto FC McInerney scored for a second consecutive game and fourth time in five matches to force the 1-1 draw.
Also in the Toronto game, Sebastien Le Toux returned to the starting lineup, but played in a wide midfield role for the first time this season. Le Toux’s previous four starts were at striker. Brazilian international Kleberson played 11 minutes off the bench in a midfield role. Kleberson was brought to the Union in a transfer deal that sent Freddy Adu to Bahia.
“They (DC United) are going to be fighting and scrapping for everything they possibly can,” said Union Captain Brian Carroll. “Our games with DC have been very competitive win lose or draw and I expect nothing less going down to their place. It is going to be an incredible battle and we are going to have to match or exceeded their intensity not only with the ball but without the ball.”
Tactics aside the Union and United offers a game between two teams highly motivated to grab three points. Determination will define this game. It will likely, as in the past, trigger emotion. That emotion will have to be controlled as both teams attack with purpose.