A flat first half doomed the Philadelphia Union last weekend against the rejuvenated Chicago Fire, but the home club can’t let that happen Saturday night in the Union’s match against DC United at PPL Park (8 p.m., NBC Sports Channel). The Washington side, despite a 3-1 drubbing of Montreal last weekend and 2-0 shut-out of Chicago in the Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday, has generally not been a good team this season. At 3-15-4, DC is dead last in the MLS Eastern Conference, will not make the play-offs, will probably not beat Real Salt Lake in the Open Cup final in October and need to be put in their place by a Union team fighting for its second play-off berth in 4 seasons.
There are always bad signs going into any MLS stand-off and for Union supporters, this one is no different. How is it, for example, that DC was able to shut-out the same Chicago club the Union could barely touch for 45 minutes last weekend? That, coupled with the mighty Montreal take-down last weekend, has some fans I’ve talked to rolling their eyes and wondering whether we’re catching a carefree club at the wrong time.
More worrisome may be the inability of the Union to beat Chicago in the midfield for long stretches last weekend, hesitating before each pass and giving the ball up repeatedly. Things got better in the second half when Fabinho was brought in and actually got the ball moving into the offensive third, a point that will probably not be lost on Manager John Hackworth as he fashions this weekend’s game plan. But with DC’s recent momentum, the Union can’t afford the same sort of extended let-down again this weekend.
For an in-depth look at DC United’s mostly down but recently up campaign, check-out Kevin Kinkead’s profile of DC’s Jekyll and Hyde season.
RACE STILL TIGHT: Losing to DC would be a big spoiler in the Union’s efforts this season, much of which has seen Philadelphia occupying a playoff position in the East. The Union is still in 4th Place, a full 4 points ahead of the non-playoff dead zone, but Houston has crept to within a point and the Red Bulls, with their big 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City last weekend, has jumped 4 points ahead of Philadelphia with KC 2 points in front. Montreal is only hair away, but as has been the case for much of the season, scheduling quirks continue to give the Canadian club games at hand on Philadelphia.
SCHEDULE GETS TOUGHER: Another reason a DC win is crucial is that the coming weeks present several tougher opponents, starting with the Red Bulls on the road. And by the way, the season (which never seems to end in the MLS) actually only has 10 games left after this weekend. It’s getting to be the time of year when mistakes are less forgiving and missed chances cut deeper.
MURPH NOTES: ‘Really wanted to be there on Saturday night, but I’m taking my kid and his stuff to grad school that day. I’ve got some down time coming up so you may not hear from me for a bit, but I’ll have a nice Union-related show and tell when I get back online later on. Take care and DOOP it up big time Saturday night!