Match previews / Union

USOC preview: Union at DC United

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

What: US Open Cup Fourth Round

Who: Union at DC United

Where: Maryland SoccerPlex

When: 7:30 pm EST

The Philadelphia Union have had chances to prove they are better than their record. A five-goal thriller loss to New York, a late loss to a strong San Jose side, and a potential statement match in Toronto (aka the game that launched a thousand facepalms).

Now they get another shot at turning things around against a DC United squad sitting fat and happy atop the Eastern Conference.

From the very first meeting, these teams seemed to be playing more than a game. Philly – behind Seba Le Toux’s hat trick – was the future of MLS. Teams that were built smart and young, supported by rabid, creative fans, and played in a soccer-specific stadium. The Union was the closest MLS had to a European team; they were willed into existence by sheer force of fandom.

Meanwhile, DC United was undoubtedly the past. They had peaked when MLS was barely alive, taking advantage of the league’s nascent status to stuff their trophy case, then benefiting from some totally above-board mafia-esque league maneuvering to acquire a 14-year-old Freddy Adu, a player with talent so precious it must be nurtured for 2 4 6 8 10 (?) years before it develops.

The team without a state had a brief resurgence under a certain Peter Nowak but seemed destined for a prolonged period of bottom-feeding. It got so bad that they hired a former player with no head coaching experience to lead the club; it was a move the reeked of desperation. But it turned out to be the right one.

It appears the Old Man of MLS has a few more tricks in his bag. And the young bucks have some learning to do.

What DC wants

Representation in Congress.

Also, they want the ball on their playmakers’ feet early and often. With Dwayne De Rosario unavailable (he put in a good shift for Canada on Sunday), manager Ben Olsen can find other ways to hurt the U. But he might not find them consistently.

The most important thing De Ro brings is that he brings it all, every game. Playing a role often filled by mercurial, moody stars, the Canadian uses his combination of size and foot skills to give himself the extra second to think and play. Without him in the lineup, United relies more heavily on its wing play. (“Wing play” is something most soccer teams engage in at various points in a match.) The wingers DC can call upon are better than most. Chris Pontius, who is doubtful for tonight’s game, and Andy Najar have torched the Union in the past, and rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon has the ability to drift wide and find space for a good cross.

In the past, United relied on these wingers to create and finish off a move. No more. Designated Player Hamdi Salihi and MLS troubadour Maicon Santos are the first choice duo up top, and they are ably supported by Josh Wolff (who scored the first goal when DC beat Philly in this tournament last year) and Branko Boskovic (who nailed the coffin shut with the final penalty).

The Union response

The return of Carlos Valdes will help Philadelphia deal with DC’s aerial threats, though playing Michael Farfan at right back will make those threats much more common.

Nothing against Marfan, but he flourishes as a wide midfielder and often flounders as an outside back. Totally understandable since, y’know, he is an attacking-minded midfielder. Ray Gaddis or Chris Albright could return, and Michael Lahoud or even Cristhian Hernandez could start in back. Let’s be honest: With the Union nothing is off the table. If you have “unicorn” on your outside-back-bingo card, this could be the match you’ve been waiting for.

The truth of the matter is this: The best way to contain the De Rosario’s of the league is to man mark them out of the game. If only the Union had a strong, fast, defensive midfielder who could hound a playmaker whistle to whistle… No, I know what you’re thinking. Migs retired.

Generating chances

It’s a real thing. Lots of teams do it. And the Union can too. Perry Kitchen is likely to battle Amobi Okugo for time with the US national team once Mo Edu and Jermaine Jones hang up their boots (which may or may not have happened right after the USA-Scotland match). He sweeps in front of the DC defense, and he is asked to do a lot. United prefers an athletic back four over a structured setup, and pressure can undo them.

Pressure is something the Union did well against Rochester, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Philadelphia is at the point where they need to experiment, either with tactics or personnel. They have the capacity to do both, but so far the will to do neither. Success for the Union will come through fundamentals: Triangles, off-the-ball runs, and simple, quick passing moves.

I wish there was more to say, but there isn’t. Until the foundation is in place, no offense can be built.

Two matches against DC United in the next couple of weeks. Two chances for the Union to let their anxiety fall by the wayside and assert themselves on a quality opponent.

Everyone knows Peter Nowak is a man of impenetrable confidence. When will he share some of that with his team?


  1. Way to go, Adam, well said! The fact that De Ro is absent is a blessing and we should take advantage of that, but Ben Olsen has put a great team together that makes things happen.

  2. DarthLos117 says:

    Our only realistic chance for silverware this campaign remaining. Cmon men lets get this one!!! Cmon U!!!

  3. well said, LETS DOOP IT UP BOYS! anyone have a link to the game (im assuming its going down chat room style) so we can read along play by play..

  4. Ahh I think I’ve found my answer…

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