Rivalry Night: Union hope to bounce back at DC United on Sunday

The Philadelphia Union will play five matches during the month of August and two of them are against bitter rivals DC United. Sunday night’s match-up is destined to be a physical affair and will provide a playoff preview as both teams sit atop the Eastern Conference table (PHI 1st – 39 pts // DC T-2nd – 36 pts).

In a perfect world, Philadelphia would have traveled to Montreal last Saturday and earned a result if not a victory to set themselves up nicely for a heavyweight bout against DC United. However, they failed to do much of anything north of the border, allowed four goals, scored none, and returned to Chester with their heads in the hands.

Now, an opportunity – albeit a difficult challenge – awaits Sunday night for Philadelphia. They need to bounce back in hopes of boosting their team morale and confidence with just 10 games remaining. But can they respond after allowing winning just two of their last seven matches while allowing four goals in two of their last three? Time will tell.

Philadelphia are just 2-3-2 over their last seven matches dating back to the end of the Gold Cup break on June 26th. Over this span, they’ve played three at home and four away and tomorrow will be yet another road challenge – which totals to eight road matches over the last two months of play.

Of course, earning results on the road is considered one of the more difficult aspects of MLS play which should provide some context for the recent struggles Philadelphia have faced. But at some point, the group needs to find a way to grind out results away from home. And at this point of the season, it’s now or never.

DC enters the weekend with a similar story. Since the Gold Cup break, DC have won just two matches while earning draws in three others earning nine points in seven matches.

Neither team is really clicking or firing on all cylinders heading into August. The Sunday night nationally televised contest is a great opportunity for both clubs to regroup, focus up, and begin a strong playoff push to finish out the 2019 campaign.

For Philadelphia, their recent defensive woes will hopefully be resolved. Luckily for them, DC hasn’t been an offensive powerhouse this season. DC have scored just 31 goals which ranks 8th in the Eastern Conference and tied for 16th in MLS. And when DC does score, its rarely in bunches. So far this season, DC have scored more than one goal just six times since doing so on three occasions during the opening month of the season.

The lack of scoring from DC could be a major benefit for Philadelphia, but given the lack of defense over the last three matches, nothing is a certainty when discussing the Union’s backline. Changes should be made to the starting XI, but Head Coach Jim Curtin seemed reluctant to confirm whether that would be the case or not. One thing is for sure, center back Mark McKenzie did not play for USL Championship affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC during their Thursday night match which points to a possible start for McKenzie over either Auston Trusty or Jack Elliot. And could RJ Allen spell Ray Gaddis at right back? Once more, time will tell.

On the other hand, DC’s defense has been lights out for the majority of the season. They’ve allowed just 26 goals against which is second in the conference and tied for third in all of MLS. Star goalkeeper Bill Hamid is the main reason for the stout defending racking up 90 saves (2nd in MLS) and nine clean sheets (also 2nd in MLS). DC’s backline – which often features 3-5 defenders at times – is bolstered by Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant – both of whom have played all 24 games so far this season. It’s safe to say Philadelphia will need to be very surgical when attempting to breakdown the effective DC defense if they want to threaten.

Possession for possession’s sake won’t work for Philadelphia. And it hasn’t lately. Recently Philadelphia have struggled to put teams on their heels when they have the ball. The main reason for the lack of threatening play in the attacking half is the absence of Jamiro Monteiro. Monteiro is listed as questionable but sounds more likely to be doubtful to dress for Philadelphia. If Monteiro can go, that’ll be the key for Philly. If he can’t, then Marco Fabian and Alejandro Bedoya must take their games to the next level if the offense hopes to create.

The match is set for 7:30 PM Sunday evening at Audi Field and will be carried on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) in what promises to be an exciting nationally televised playoff preview.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Graduate of Pennsylvania State University ’16. Interests include sports and history. Follow on twitter for Philly sports news – @MMcClain_PSN
Philadelphia Union writer.

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