It's been just two weeks since the Philadelphia Union won at home to DC United. The time has come for the two to face off once again, this time at RFK Stadium. While DC were undone late on at PPL Park, the keys to victory for the Eastern conference high flyers will be examined.
Apply the pressure early: Throughout the season the Union have had the tendency to sit back early and absorb pressure. While it's worked the past two weeks, they look very vulnerable at times such as the Vancouver match where they never quite got out of the gates. DC can take advantage of this by pressing early and forcing Philadelphia to chase the game (as they've had to do much of this season to ill effect). This strategy could and has worked for DC in the past as the defensively solid outfit tend to win a lot of close matches but they must assure they don't become complacent. They did this late on at PPL Park and a good spell of possession for Philadelphia undid DC.
Cut out the counter attack: The Union showed their capability to counter attack against the New York Red Bulls and were far more efficient playing the long ball than passing out from the back. DC can counter this several ways: the high press prevents the Union from passing out of the back and or playing accurate long balls if not given time on the ball, but does leave them open to a pacy counter attack through players like Andrew Wenger, CJ Sapong, and Eric Ayuk. That being said, the Union have at times shown hesitancy to throw numbers forward and these players, while quick, can be isolated and dealt with on the double team as shown by the New York Red Bulls against Christian Maidana on several occasions.
Should the Union choose to go long to Sapong or Fernando, DC must assure they win their headers more often than not because Union players such as Christian Maidana and others will get the flick on to deadly effect as evidenced last season. That being said, with the height United has in central defence, it should prove to be a good battle. Which leads to the next point...
Keep it physical and use your strength: While Sapong and Fernando are big guys they both can be relatively disabled with the right type of physicality. Sapong has a quick turn of pace, so the DC defenders should try their best to keep him with his back to goal. As for Fernando, while he is a fighter he lacks pace and dribbling skill, as he's very much a poacher type goal scorer. That said, past teams have disabled him with big center backs and by isolating him from the midfield, which will be less effective should Sapong partner him, and thus be able to link up with him but without the proper service he's far less dangerous.
Wenger and Ayuk are slightly different cases. Wenger has looked lost when faced with the double team but has the capability to skin defences with his pace, while Sean Franklin is equipped to deal with him, Nick DeLeon, or whomever is on the right come Saturday may have to get back and help defend against the Philadelphia native. As for Ayuk, like Sapong and Fernando he can be disabled with physicality. The youngster is lightening fast but lacks in physique and can be dispossessed with some ease.
Additionally, Chris Korb should do his best not to allow the Cameroonian to cut in and take a shot. By keeping him to the outside, Ayuk is forced to cross which is an area of his game that is not his strong suite at this point in his career.
Should DC follow these suggestions on Saturday they may be on their way to consolidating top spot in the East which is more impoftant than ever given their upcoming run of games against Eastern Conference opponents.