As far as Major League Soccer rivalries go, D.C. United’santagonism with the Philadelphia Union is relatively lacking in history. Tuesday night’s affair wasjust the sixth all-time meeting between the two neighboring franchises, but thephysical nature of the fourth-round Open Cup clash served as an important milestonein the I-95 rivalry's coming of age.
“I don’t think [Philadelphia Head Coach] Peter [Nowak] hasbeen happy with the way they’ve been playing,” defender Daniel Woolard said ofPhiladelphia’s struggles in league play. “So they are going to come out with a little chip on their shoulderwanting to prove something. Ithink we got a little frustrated.”
Frustration seemed to be a common theme Tuesday as bothsides struggled to hold any measure of real possession through ninety minutesof regulation. The opening halfsaw both D.C. central backs cautioned for physical play as a desperatePhiladelphia side looked to stay alive in a competition becoming more and moreimportant to the club as its league prospects fade. Emotions failed to cool at halftime as the Union picked upthree second-half yellow cards, all for reckless challenges. The most obvious infraction came in the64th minute when referee Jose Carlos Rivero had to separate the twoteams after Josue Martinez crashed into Woolard from behind.
Things only got worse in extra time when, after Philadelphiascored the eventual game-winner, the sense of desperation shifted from thevisitors to the Black-and-Red. During an ambitious foray into the Union box, Brandon McDonald andPhilly captain Carlos Valdes tangled and then exchanged blows. Both players were sent off.
While the clubs' proximity seemed like an obvious explanation for the general ‘chippyness’ that marred Tuesday night’s contest, D.C. Head Coach Ben Olsen notedanother contributing factor.
“[The referees] don’t know how to punish guys when theycommit a lot of fouls or should be thrown out,” said a heated Olsenafterwards. “It justescalates. They can’t handle it.It is what it is; it’s what it has always been. Again, maybe that’s part of the fun of the Open Cup.”
The two teams are set to meet again on June 16 at Philadelphia's PPL Park. With a six-point EasternConference swing on the line, midfielder Perry Kitchen - who had to beseparated from Union counterpart Michael Farfan multiple times – expects to addanother physical chapter to the fledgling rivalry.
“It’s definitely going to be another hard fought match,”said Kitchen, who added that his team failed to match Philadelphia’s intensityin the 2-1 loss. “We’ll be readyfor that one.”