It’s been a week since its 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact, but D.C. United is set for its final match of the Walt Disney World Resort Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando, Fla., Saturday at 1p.m. EST (@DCUMatchday) against Eastern Conference rival Philadelphia Union.
United and the Union have not seen each other competitively since last year’s regular-season match at PPL Park on Sept. 20, ending in a 1-0 victory in the Black-and-Red’s favor. However, both teams met for a scrimmage game in Deltona, Fla. on Wednesday, playing to a 1-1 draw, with United trialist Kyle Porter equalizing when he converted on a penalty kick in the second half.
The Black-and-Red has had a decent run of form at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic thus far. United torched the North American Soccer League (NASL) champion Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-0 on Feb. 9, fell 2-0 to Sporting Kansas City on Feb. 13, and played the Montreal Impact to a 1-1 draw on Feb. 16. The Philadelphia Union has had a similar showing at the tournament as well. Philadelphia met USL-PRO side Orlando City SC in a 1-1 draw on Feb. 9, went scoreless against the tournament undefeated Columbus Crew in a 4-0 loss on Feb. 13, but went three up against Toronto FC in a 3-0 victory in its previous tournament match on Feb 16.
The Union met the Black-and-Red four times in 2012, the first being in a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match that saw Philadelphia knock United out of the tournament. The Black-and-Red would bounce back, however, and would not drop a game against Philadelphia once in league play, going 2-0-1 against its rival. Last year, the rivalry reached new heights, and one only has to review the referee’s report for proof. In the four games from last year, the disciplinary summary showed an average of five cards per game, including one red card a match on average. Most of the bookings came in a wild game at RFK Stadium on Aug. 19, featuring 10 cards shown, three of which were red cards – having six Union players booked (Sheanon Williams receiving a second yellow/red) to United’s three, although two United players were red carded in a match that ended at 1-1.
Since the Philadelphia Union was introduced to Major League Soccer as an expansion team in 2010, Philadelphia and United have met a total of eight times, with the Union (4-2-2) having the upper hand on the Black-and-Red (2-4-2). Although the teams share a mutual dislike, both clubs have featured some of the same notable players, including: Freddy Adu – who played for the Black-and-Red from 2004-2006 and has been with the Union since 2011, but looks to be departing soon, Brian Carroll, who spent five years (2003-2007) with United before joining Philadelphia in 2011 as well and last year’s trade featuring former Union forward Lionard Pajoy in exchange for midfielder Danny Cruz. Pajoy subsequently scored a game winner against his former team in a 1-0 victory for United on Sept. 20 in his first match back at PPL Park in Philadelphia.
As the start of league play looms, both D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union are looking to start the season off on the right foot by getting the right players to fill critical roster spots. United has made some big changes, most notably bringing in added firepower to the front line with the signing of Brazilian Rafael as a Young Designated Player and trading for forward Casey Townsend (Chivas USA). The Black-and-Red has also looked to add some veteran experience with the acquisition of John Thorrington from Vancouver Whitecaps FC and, most recently, with the addition of MLS legend Carlos Ruiz via the MLS allocation process. Those players combined with the established play of 2012 Best XI selection Chris Pontius, United captain Dwayne De Rosario, and Rookie of the Year finalists Perry Kitchen (2011) and Nick DeLeon (2012), should see the Black-and-Red possess added depth in important positions needed to sustain the rigors of the 2013 MLS season.
The Philadelphia Union has made some changes as well, most notably with the return of Sebastien Le Toux, much to the joy of the Union faithful. Le Toux scored 25 goals and had 20 assists in all competitions from 2010-2011 for the Union. The Philadelphia favorite returns to “The City of Brotherly Love” after stints with Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the New York Red Bulls in 2012. Combined with the Union’s young corps of talent, including twin brothers Michael and Gabriel Farfan – the former finishing third for Rookie of the Year in 2011 and representing the Union at the 2012 All-Star game at PPL Park – Le Toux will join French compatriot Antoine Hoppenot and veteran Connor Casey to round out Philadelphia’s line of attack. However, questions still remain about Freddy Adu’s future with the Union. And Union Head Coach John Hackworth replaced former Union Head Coach Peter Nowak, who also coached D.C. United from 2004-2006, in 2012. After spending five years in the U.S. U-17 National Team coaching ranks, Hackworth later served as an assistant with the U.S. Men’s National Team, before joining the Union as an assistant in 2010. Hackworth has brought an infusion of youth to his coaching philosophy at Philadelphia and looks to grow the team with an influx of young talent.
Philadelphia will look to improve upon its 2012 MLS record (10-18-6) starting with its final preseason match of 2013 against the Black-and-Red. And United, who made it one stop shy of an MLS Cup appearance in 2012, will be looking to make that next step in 2013.