It’s rivalry week in MLS, which means D.C. United will travel the short journey up I-95 to face their Philly foes: The Philadelphia Union.
“Any time we play them it is a bit of a rivalry,” United defender Steve Birnbaum said. “It is always a physical game.”
The matchup on Saturday is a battle at the bottom of the MLS table. The Union are currently enduring their second losing streak of the 2017 season, having dropped the ball on their last three games.
Meanwhile, United are searching for some consistency among their recent sporadic range of results. United have lost, tied and won their last three games. The squad is coming off of a 2-1 victory over Atlanta United, ending their 400-minute scoring drought.
The goal deficit was weighing heavily in the back of Birnbaum’s mind going into Wednesday’s game, but he’s hopeful things will continue to look up for the Black-and-Red.
“We have a little bit more chemistry going right now and [are] feeling a little bit better after getting that monkey off our back of no goals,” he said.
United and the Union have met twice this season at RFK Stadium. Now, it is United’s turn to take on Philly’s domain.
Each team has one game in the series. United beat Philly 2-1 in the first matchup on April 1, but the Union came back on May 31 and trounced United 4-0 as a part of their four-game winning streak
“We know them very well and they know us very well,” coach Ben Olsen said. “There will be no secrets on what our teams are about. It is always a physical matchup.”
That familiarity extends to one Philadelphia player in particular. Former United midfielder Chris Pontius made the move to the Union in 2015 after eight seasons in Washington, D.C. The move gave the California-native a “new life.” Pontius scored 12 goals and tallied six assists in 2016 with the Union.
Though he has already matched his number of assists from last season, Pontius has yet to mark the score sheet. But his former team knows he will come into Saturday’s game eager for a goal in the midst of Philly’s most reason rut.
“I have known [Pontius] for a while,” Olsen said. “He is always looking to score goals. It’s what he has done his whole life.”
Birnbaum said he still keeps in touch with his former roommate. In fact, he and Pontius talk almost once a week, but the topics of conversation usually stray from soccer. They steer toward golf and life events instead, including Pontius’s recent engagement.
“It’s nice to get wins against him and Philly just because we were roommates,” Birnbaum said. “It adds that little bit of edge after the game.”
United’s lineup against the Union will look a little different from the lineup against Atlanta, which was Olsen’s plan all along.
“The thought going into these two games was, ‘How can we put together two lineups that can get the results we want out of these two games?’” Olsen said. “We took care of the first part. Now it is our job to get something out of Philly.”
Injured players Rob Vincent (knee), Sean Franklin (hamstring) and Nick DeLeon were all in practice this week. Vincent and Franklin are “essentially in full training,” while DeLeon is “getting there,” Olsen said.
United will have to carry over their confidence from Wednesday’s victory and put together performances on both sides of the ball in order to get a win against their rivals in Philadelphia.
“It is obviously a quick turnaround, so we have to get guys back to where they need to be physically,” Olsen said. “We have to be prepared for a usual Philly/D.C. Slugfest.”
United face off against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, June 24 at 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium.
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