Philadelphia Union (MLS) vs. D.C. United (MLS)
Time/Location: 7 p.m. ET; PPL Park in Chester, PA
Philadelphia Union U.S. Open Cup Record: 7-3-2
D.C. United U.S. Open Cup Record: 32-11-4
Head-to-Head U.S. Open Cup Record: D.C. United leads 2-1
Broadcast: U.S. Soccer YouTube
It's U.S. Open Cup time again as D.C. United visits PPL Park in the round of 16. D.C. United boasts the second best record in MLS and the Union have the second worst record when looking at points per game. However, that's the only bad news if you're a Union fan. Just about every other factor favors the boys in blue.
The motivation to win the U.S. Open Cup
Certainly every player, every organization wants to win any tournament they compete in. But there can be big differences in just how badly they want to win, and what they will sacrifice to win. In this case, the Union have much more motive to perform well in the U.S. Open Cup. One of the biggest awards given to the winner is an invitation to the CONCACAF Champions League. D.C. United has gotten the invite the past two seasons and given their place at the top of the table are a favorite to get their third in a row. Getting the ticket via the U.S. Open Cup actually seems like more of a long shot. United has to be more focused on their MLS season.
Meanwhile the Union were a foot away from hoisting the trophy last year and another Cup run could help salvage what has been a tremendously disappointing season. Advantage Union.
A brutal schedule
D.C. United is in the middle of a brutal MLS schedule that will see them play four games in ten days, all on the road. On June 24th United earned a 1-0 win at Chicago. They then followed that up in Toronto with a 0-0 draw. They visit the Union on the 30th and then have to fly across the country to Seattle for a Friday night game on July 3rd. Just how badly will United want to win this game? Given this Cup isn't essential to meet their objectives, I would expect Ben Olsen to rest many of his key players, just as he did against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the 4th round.
The Union's schedule isn't much better but they do have a key advantage. This match-up will mark the fourth game the Union have played in eleven days. No doubt they will have very tired legs. The advantage is that after this game they will have a week and a half before their next match. Curtin can urge them to give all they have, knowing that a few days off will be truly earned. Advantage Union.
A chip on their shoulder
The Union beat D.C. United last time they came to PPL Park. Zach Pfeffer was the late game hero clinching a 1-0 victory. D.C. United returned the favor when the Union visited in May with a controversial 2-1 win. The Union deserved a result for their play but an odd handball call on Pfeffer resulted in a penalty kick that decided the match. Wenger admitted in the press conference that the team clearly still tastes that bitter pill and feel they should have earned at least a point. The Union have played well so far against United and will have that confidence as well as a pretty good sized chip on their shoulder. Advantage Union.
Despite the Union's poor record this season, they have been reasonably good at home, compiling a 5-2-4 (W-D-L) record at PPL Park in all competitions. Three of those wins came in June. Advantage Union.
D.C. United has been the most consistent team in the league this year and the Union have not. But just about every other factor going into this game points to the Union. The Union's health and depth are certainly concerns, especially with the team about to play game number four in under two weeks. With Aristeguieta, Vitoria and Le Toux still injury concerns, Curtin won't have too many options to tinker with the lineup. And as we all know the game of soccer likes to mess with our minds. A single great strike or a red card could throw all these pre-match elements out the window. Still, I like the Union to advance to the quarterfinals with a late 2-1 win.