Match #22 Preview: Philadelphia Union At D.C. United

CHESTER, PA - JUNE 16: Midfielder Branko Boskovic #8 of D.C. United battles for position with defender Sheanon Williams #25 of the Philadelphia Union during a game at PPL Park on June 16, 2012 in Chester, Pennsylvania. D.C United won 1-0. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Setting: Sunday, August 19 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.; kickoff scheduled for 5:19 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: NBC Sports Network/TSN2 (Arlo White, Kyle Martino) and RDS2 in the U.S. and Canada, and SportsRadio 610 WIP (Tony Limarzi, Peter Pappas) locally / La Nueva 87.7 FM (Oscar Burgos, Joel Navas, Milton Renderos) in D.C.

D.C.'s Record: 11-8-3 (36 points, fifth in East)

D.C.'s Last Match: L, 2-1 at Sporting KC

Philadelphia vs. D.C. This Season: 0-1-0 (D.C. 1 @ Philadelphia 0 on June 16)

For the D.C. Perspective, Visit Black And Red United

With their hopes for clawing up the standings into a playoff position on life support (to say the least), the Philadelphia Union are traveling a couple of hours south to RFK Stadium to take on geographic rival D.C. United. Usually, the natural rivalry between a Philadelphia team and a D.C. team (much like a Philadelphia team and a New York team, or a D.C. team and a New York team) makes the match interesting enough, but there's an extra wrinkle leading into Sunday. Just yesterday, the two teams made a trade, with the Union sending Lionard Pajoy and an international spot to D.C. in return for midfielder Danny Cruz. The disappointment of the Colombian striker has been well-documented by the media and the fanbase since May, though to be fair to Pajoy, a lot of the blame ought to fall on the team for overhyping Pajoy and championing him as their replacement for Sebastien Le Toux. In return, the "Hackworthification" of the team continues, as Hackworth worked with Cruz in the U.S. national team system. Indeed, Hackworth was at the helm of a U.S. U-17 national team that included Cruz, Zac MacMath, Sheanon Williams, and Amobi Okugo. So Cruz joins a Union side where he already has friends and has an idea or two about what to expect from the coach.

Lionard Pajoy, on the other hand, joins a team that has scuffled recently, particularly offensively. They've dropped four of their last six, but all four of those losses came on the road, with the other two being home victories. Home cooking has been the key to D.C.'s success this season: they are 8-1-2 at RFK this season, with the lone loss coming in their season opener, unbeaten in the ten home matches since. They do have a little more room to play with in the standings than may appear at first glance: looking at points-per-game in the Eastern Conference, which at this point in the season when many teams have matches in hand on each other is probably more important than raw points, D.C. enters the weekend just 0.03 points-per-game away from a third-place pace, and a full 0.28 points-per-game ahead of Columbus (who is in seventh, but is on pace to do better than Montreal, who have played the most matches in the Eastern Conference). Put another way, road issues aside, D.C. is still in a prime position and their destiny is entirely in their hands, which is something the Union wish they could say. Ben Olsen seems to be having some trouble getting the formula right for his starting eleven, which wasn't an issue earlier in the season, but he's got two pieces that any manager in MLS would take in a heartbeat: Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius. And now he's got Lionard Pajoy, who figures to start up top against the Union on Sunday. The trade wasn't made with the assumption that Pajoy will become a primary striker for D.C., but with players not named De Rosario and Pontius struggling to score consistently, it's probably worth a shot to start him immediately and see what happens -- if he doesn't produce, it's at worst a lateral tactical move for Olsen.

Danny Cruz brings a slightly different element to Philadelphia. The Virginia native was a forward under Hackworth on the U.S. U-17 team, but now is an attacking midfielder who is usually employed on the right side of midfield, though Hackworth and Cruz both insist that he can play on either side in Hackworth's preferred 4-3-3 formation. His role is not exactly a unique element in a Union roster that is seemingly overflowing with midfielders of all shapes, sizes, and specialties, but by all accounts Cruz will immediately leapfrog almost all of Philadelphia's midfielders on the team depth chart and, like Pajoy, is expected to see his first action with his new team on Sunday. In Hackworth's 4-3-3, Brian Carroll has tended to be the only player consistently starting in midfield, with others rotating in and out on a weekly basis. It seems to be a fair assumption that, if Cruz can perform as expected, he, too, can lock down a consistent starting spot, which leaves only one midfield position available. With Carlos Valdes back from international duty, if Bakary Soumare (though more rusty than expected against Chicago) keeps the other centerback position, does that final spot in midfield go to Amobi Okugo? Okugo -- who was drafted as a midfielder, not a defender -- has without a shadow of a doubt earned a starting role, and were it not for the Soumare acquisition, would likely remain at centerback for the rest of the season, and Hackworth has admitted as much. That quandary has likely given Hackworth a headache, as he tries to balance giving playing time based on performance and ensuring that more than 13 or 14 players see regular time with the first team.

Projected starters, injury reports, and assorted match notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Soumare, Williams; Carroll, Gomez, Cruz; M. Farfan, Adu, McInerney

D.C.: Hamid; Chabala, Dudar, McDonald, Korb; Pontius, Boskovic, Kitchen, Najar; De Rosario, Pajoy

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms) remains unavailable. Jorge Perlaza (low back strain) is "doubtful". Gabriel Farfan (left ankle sprain) is "questionable". Michael Farfan (left foot contusion), Roger Torres (left ankle sprain), and Danny Cruz (left knee contusion) are "probable".

For D.C., Lance Rozeboom (left knee ACL tear), Robbie Russell (left plantar fasciitis), and Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms) are unavailable. Maicon Santos (right toe soreness) is "doubtful". Dwayne De Rosario (left shoulder soreness) is "probable".

Of note:

  • Mark Geiger is listed as tomorrow's match referee, back fresh from the Olympics, where he officiated men's soccer matches, including the quarterfinal between Japan and Egypt. In 99 career MLS matches, Geiger has called an average of 26.3 fouls per match, handed out an average of 3.7 yellow cards per match, given a total of 23 red cards, and has awarded a total of 33 penalty kicks.
  • Michael Farfan and Gabriel Gomez are one yellow card away from receiving automatic one-match disciplinary suspensions for yellow card accumulation.
  • Jack McInerney returns to the Union after serving his red card suspension against Chicago.
  • The Union have to be looking for a better performance from Zac MacMath. Two of the three goals he allowed to Chicago were questionable, and it's a continuation of a trend over the last several weeks. Some are speculating that the after-effects of his concussion are to blame. One hopes that MacMath isn't trying to play through something that he shouldn't be trying to play through, and that the Union are being extraordinarily careful as well, but...
  • Entering the weekend, D.C. is tied for third in the league with the New York Red Bulls for most home goals scored in MLS, with 24. San Jose (28) and Montreal (25) are the only teams to have scored more at home.
  • Sunday is Dwayne De Rosario bobblehead night! The first 7,500 fans to enter RFK will get a DeRo bobblehead. Here's a picture of one of the bobbleheads.
The Union go for their first road result in a month, while D.C. tries to right the ship at home, where they've been lights out almost the entire season. If you're making the trek down to RFK on Sunday, enjoy the match, otherwise, we hope you can join us here Sunday evening for a gamethread!
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