D.C. United is headed north to battle the Union Thursday night (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in critical match with heavy playoff repercussions for the Black-and-Red. We provide some keys to United success below:
Recipe for road prosperity
It's no secret that United has struggled when playing away from the cozy confines of RFK Stadium this season. A bright spot on the road slate this year just so happens to have occurred at PPL Park, June 16, when United claimed its last road victory. In that match, the visitors were organized and compact in defense, limiting Philadelphia to a mere five shots on frame. None of those beat goalkeeper Bill Hamid. United was also effective in establishing counter-attack opportunities and creating set pieces in dangerous spots. Chris Pontius deposited Branko Boskovic's quality service on one such opportunity for a late game-winner. That's a recipe for success away from home. Repeat performances in these two areas will be needed tomorrow night in order for United to again emerge victorious.
Keep your composure
Major League Soccer is going the extra mile to promote the rivalry angle in advance of tomorrow's nationally televised match. Given the chippy affairs that have played out between these two clubs this season, it is easy to see why. A U.S. Open Cup fixture in early June brought five cautions before the first League tie between the two clubs saw the same. Emotions boiled over last month on East Capitol Street, as United's Branko Boskovic and Emiliano Dudar saw red before the Union's Sheanon Williams was ejected. Five other players were issued cautions in a match that was widely described as a big step towards firmly establishing these neighboring clubs as heated rivals. Though they'll need to match the intensity of the hosts, D.C. United players will need to keep their heads against a club with nothing to lose and in a hostile environment. If they do, three points should be available for the taking.
Building a wall
Bill Hamid has shown glimpses of brilliance throughout the early stages of his professional career. It's possible that his most complete single-game performance to date came Saturday night in United's 2-1 victory over New England. Hamid was beaten only once, on a deflected Kelyn Rowe shot, and made three superb stops to guarantee the Black-and-Red a full three points on the night. Games like that are quick confidence builders for young players and that's exactly what club manager Ben Olsen and, in particular, assistant coach Pat Onstad hope is in the offing for their goalkeeper. Hamid will need to build on his performance in Philadelphia Thursday night to hold the Union attack at bay and give his club a shot at a big result.