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Preview: D.C. United at Philadelphia Union

United hit the road looking for three crucial points

MLS MATCHDAY 29
D.C. United at Philadelphia Union
Thursday, September 20 - 8:00 PM ET
TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, TSN 2, RSN2

Coming off a tenuous 2-1 win over the visiting New England Revolution last Saturday, D.C. United will look to further improve its playoff position when it heads north up I-95 to take on the Philadelphia Union Thursday in a nationally-televised clash.

Philadelphia may be just what the doctor ordered for a United side that is now lacking its most creative player in Dwayne De Rosario, who was ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering a grade III MCL sprain. Philadelphia has not won since July 20 – a 2-1 win over New England – and is just 0-3-5 since. The Union has failed to score more than a single goal in all eight matches, which included being shutout on three occasions.

United, though, is still adjusting to life after DeRo, and the growing pains showed in Saturday’s game against New England.

“We were rusty. It was not a great game and we were probably a little lucky,” said United boss Ben Olsen after the match. “It could have gone either way. They had plenty of chances and we had some good looks. We are going to have to do much better than that going forward if we’re going to reach our goal.”

The goal from the beginning of preseason has been the same for Olsen and his men – make the post-season. With only six regular season games remaining for the Black-and-Red, every point counts in the crowded Eastern Conference, and full points over the club’s closest rival would go a long way towards ending the team’s four-season playoff drought.

Key to D.C.’s success, both on Thursday night and for the rest of the season, is finding the right combinations on the field. On Saturday, former Union man Lionard Pajoy was paired with Maicon Santos up top, while Nick DeLeon, Branko Boskovic, Perry Kitchen and Chris Pontius filled out Olsen’s midfield. It remains to be seen if the technical staff will choose to reward Saturday’s offensive substitutes – Lewis Neal and Hamdi Salihi – with a starting spot during a packed week that also sees United host Chivas USA on Sunday.

Nearly eliminated from playoff contention, Union players are playing primarily for pride – and perhaps their jobs. After serving in an interim basis following Peter Nowak’s firing in June, John Hackworth has been given the full-time responsibility of managing the third-year club. Hackworth was less than impressed with his team’s effort last Saturday in a 1-1 draw with bottom-dwellers Toronto.

“We didn’t play very well today, it might have been one of our poorest first half performances this year,” said Hackworth after the draw. “It’s a little bit frustrating, because it felt like our team was ready to play much better than that after the break and we had a good two weeks of training.”

The Union’s task of getting back in the win column is further complicated by the fact that the team will be without one of its most influential players. Michael Farfan leads the Union with four assists and 46 shots on goal, but will miss Thursday’s contest due to yellow card accumulation, which carries a one-game suspension.

The team will instead likely rely on Freddy Adu (three goals), Jack McInerney (four goals, two assists), and perhaps Gabriel Gomez (five goals), to generate some much-needed offense. Former United player Danny Cruz – who was dealt in the trade that brought Pajoy to D.C. – has been dealing with toe sprain, but played 90 minutes on Saturday. An emotional player, Cruz is likely to come out firing on all cylinders against his former club.

The last time United visited PPL Park, Cruz was playing for the visitors and United was outplayed for long stretches of the match. The team maintained defensive shape to limit the Union’s chances, however, and in the late stages of the game, Pontius got on the end of a superbly taken Boskovic free kick and helped D.C. escape with full points.

“We got our asses kicked and ended up stealing a win," defender Dejan Jakovic told the Washington Post about the team’s June 16 win over Philadelphia.

Undoubtedly, the hosts will have felt robbed and will be pushing for a different outcome on national TV Thursday. Should the Black-and-Red hope to repeat the feat this time around, the prescription for success will likely require the front six to find a better offensive rhythm and more frequently test goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who has been prone to mistakes in his second professional season.

» ANALYSIS: Volkswagen Keys to the Match

» Create and share your starting XI

REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Corey Parker; 4th: Daniel Fitzgerald
MLS Career: 142 games; FC/gm: 25.0; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 48; pens: 51

INJURY REPORT:

  • PHILADELPHIA UNION -- OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms); QUESTIONABLE: DF Bakary Soumare (R knee inflammation); PROBABLE: MF Michael Farfan (L hamstring strain); MF Danny Cruz (L big toe sprain)
  • D.C. UNITED -- OUT: MF Lance Rozeboom (L knee ACL tear); DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); MF Stephen King (inguinal hernia repair); FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain); PROBABLE: MF Marcelo Saragosa (L hamstring strain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

SUSPENDED: PHI: Michael Farfan (caution accumulation; through Sept. 19)

WARNINGS:

  • SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: PHI: Brian Carroll, Gabriel Gomez – DC: Dwayne De Rosario, Lionard Pajoy, Maicon Santos
  • SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: PHI: Gabriel Farfan, Michael Lahoud, Jack McInerney, Carlos Valdes – DC: Emiliano Dudar, Chris Pontius, Andy Najar, Dejan Jakovic, Bill Hamid, Chris Korb

HEAD-TO-HEAD

  • ALL-TIME (6 meetings): United 2 wins, 10 goals – Union 2 wins, 9 goals – Ties 2
  • AT PHILADELPHIA (3 meetings): Union 2 wins, 6 goals – United 1 win, 5 goals – Ties 0

2012 (MLS)
6/16: PHI 0, DC 1 (Pontius 78) (HIGHLIGHTS)
8/19: DC 1, PHI 1 (own goal 71 -- Carroll 8) (HIGHLIGHTS)

  • The teams are meeting for the third time this year in league play. They played to a 1-1 draw Aug. 19 at RFK Stadium after United won 1-0 on June 16 in a goal by Chris Pontius. The teams also met in the U.S. Open Cup, with Union advancing after an extra-time victory.
  • Coaches record: John Hackworth vs. DC: P2 W0 L1 D1 – Ben Olsen vs. PHI: P5 W2 L1 D2

LAST MEETING

  • Union took a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute. A free kick pinballed to Carlos ValdÈs, who fired a shot that was headed away by United's Perry Kitchen, right to Brian Carroll, and he provided the final touch into the goal from right on the line.
  • The home side tied the game in the 71st minute when Branko Boskovic's free kick slid through a bevy of players, then nicked off Union defender Amobi Okugo's head and by the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
  • The game then exploded over the final minutes. After United Chris Pontius was tripped by Roger Torres in the box in the 87th minute to win a late penalty, the first attempt from Dwayne De Rosario beat MacMath to his right. But referee Mark Geiger ruled there was encroachment -- the scrum that followed saw Boskovic shown a red card -- and on the second try, De Rosario rocketed his shot high over the goal.
  • The dramatics weren't done. United defender Emiliano Dudar was handed a straight red three minutes later, while Union defender Sheanon Williams was also sent off with a second yellow in the dying seconds.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-3-1-2): Bill Hamid - Dejan Jakovic (Hamdi Salihi 61), Brandon McDonald, Emiliano Dudar (sent off 91+), Chris Korb - Andy Najar, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon - Dwayne De Rosario (Marcelo Saragosa 90) - Lionard Pajoy (Branko Boskovic 57, sent off 89), Chris Pontius.
  • PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-2-3-1): Zac MacMath - Sheanon Williams (sent off 95+), Carlos Valdes, Amobi Okugo, Gabriel Farfan - Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud - Danny Cruz (Antoine Hoppenot 57), Michael Farfan, Freddy Adu (Keon Daniel 69) - Jack McInerney (Roger Torres 80).