Chester, PA- On Friday night, the Philadelphia Union will look to keep their spell of good play going when Interstate-95 rivals DC United come to Talen Energy Stadium. This matchup between the two closely located sides is being played as part of one of two Heineken Rivalry Weeks this season in Major League Soccer. Kickoff from Chester is slated for 7 PM EST (TV: UniMas, MLS LIVE).
Philadelphia Union, DC United in good form
Last week, Philadelphia showed MLS that their early season success is legitimate when the Blue and Gold racked up draws against the Los Angeles Galaxy and Montreal Impact. Currently, the Union sit in third place in the MLS Eastern Conference but are in first place in terms of Points Per Game. They have games in hand on the teams above them in the standings. With a win, Philadelphia would move into first place in the Eastern Conference as well as into the top five in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
For United, they come into Friday’s matchup after defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-0 last Friday. United forward Patrick Nyarko contributed one goal and one assist while goalkeeper Travis Worra added five saves in the win. Both Nyarko and Worra were awarded MLS Team of the Week honors for their play last week.
DC started their season badly, taking a meager three points from their first five matches. However, they have played better recently, taking 10 points from their last six games. With a win on Friday, United can move into a second-place tie with Montreal .
Keys to the Game
How will Chris Pontius control his emotions playing against United for the first time?
Chris Pontius spent the first seven years of his MLS career with DC United and, on Friday, will likely get his first shot at playing his former teammates. He was traded this offseason to the Blue and Gold after a couple of injury-plagued seasons with United.
This season, Pontius has been instrumental in Philadelphia’s excellent start to the season by collecting four goals and two assists. Pontius’ stats do not include the veteran leadership that the 29-year-old has added to one of the youngest rosters in the league.
Were it not for the emotional angle as well, Pontius would be a key player to watch in this match. His ability to get into dangerous areas as well as play both sides of the ball helps Philadelphia in multiple ways. If Pontius was able to put some of the easier opportunities he has had this season away, he could be closer to the top of the league in goals scored.
For the Union to get a result against DC, they will need Pontius to keep his emotions in check and continue his rejuvenated play.
How will Philadelphia Head Coach Jim Curtin rotate his squad selection, if at all?
Philadelphia is currently in the midst of playing five games in 17 days, with the Union playing two games on the road next week. Players such as Tranquillo Barnetta, who is coming off a knee injury that cost him playing time at the beginning of the season, and Sebastien Le Toux as well as Pontius have played a large amount of minutes this season. While all three veterans are integral parts of the Union attack, Curtin could look long term and see it as beneficial to give players such as Walter Restrepo and Roland Alberg an extended run out in preparation for next week.
Both Restrepo and Alberg were brought in this offseason and many thought that the two would get a multitude of minutes this season. Restrepo has yet to play a single minute heading into Friday. Meanwhile, Alberg has played 292 minutes this season, but only seven minutes in the last three games, despite being in the 18 all three games.
However, Curtin has shown tremendous loyalty to his usual starting lineup and only made a few adjustments to said lineup. If Curtin has had any faults this season, it has been the lack of squad rotation in addition to his usage of substitutes. Keep an eye out for Curtin’s selection of his starting eleven before Friday’s game.
VAVEL USA will be live from Talen Energy Stadium Friday night and will be bringing up to the minute, live coverage of the matchup.