WASHINGTON – In a welcome break from the sultry norm this time of year inWashington, D.C. United practiced under gray, rainy skies on Wednesday morning.Yet several players were already thinking about the blazing, 95-degree conditionsforecast for Thursday, when they host Seattle Sounders FC in an ESPN2 primetimematchup at RFK Stadium.
“It’s just going to be hot,” lamented Santino Quaranta. “I’drather play in this weather, but it’s going to be difficult, and I guess it’smore tough for them.”
United almost sounded eager for a chance to run the life outof their visitors from the Pacific Northwest, who will play their fifth matchin two weeks when they take the field at RFK.
“They’ve had a lot of games and they’re playing in thishumidity, which they don’t really face a lot out west,” midfielder Clyde Simmsnoted on Tuesday.
In light of these teams’ rocky past, there might also be abit of masochism at work. A year ago United and Seattle engaged in pitchedbattle on three occasions, with the US Open Cup final the pivotal showdown. SigiSchmid’s expansion side got the better of their tradition-laden counterpartswith brash impertinence both on and off the field.
Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer challenged DCpresident Kevin Payne over US Soccer’s bidding process for the cup final venue,and in similar fashion the likes of Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani shreddedthe United defense with speed and sharpness to win at RFK twice in September,in both cup and league competition.
While DC may not have been the only team whose featherswere ruffled by the exuberance and effectiveness of the league’s newest club,the four-time MLS champions quickly became the most prominent one.
United’s 3-2 win atQwest Field last month did much to salve last year’s wounds, however, and thisweek the Black-and-Red paid tribute to their West Coast rivals despite thesophomore slump that has seen SSFC slip to the lower reaches of the standings.
“They came into the league as an expansion team and they hadsuccess immediately. They had a swagger that immediately, I think, led torivalries,” DC coach Curt Onalfo said.
“But we don’t worry too much about that. We know we’replaying a very good team that’s well-coached. We’re just coming off four roadgames, we’re finally home, so we need to be really intelligent in our approach.We need to take care of business of home and get three points.”
The four lifetime meetings between these two teams haveresembled track meets for long stretches, with 17 total goals scored. This timeUnited hope to exploit Seattle’s eagerness to get forward down the flanks andmay actually invite pressure in order to do so, though that will place extra expectationson the DC midfield.
“They love to push numbers forward with theattackers that they have – and they have some really good attackers," Simms said, "so thekey for us is to keep the ball and not let them get a chance to get the ball,and deny service to their key players."
DC should also see the debut of recently signed Designated Player Branko Boskovic, though it's unclear in what role. Word is expected Thursday if the paperwork for felllow signee Pablo Hernandez will allow him to debut against the Sounders as well.