The Philadelphia Union will travel to Audi Field in Washington DC for a huge match to determine first place in the Eastern Conference. This is a big one, perhaps the Union’s biggest match of the regular season. So big that Fox has to be happy that they’re nationally televising it.
UPDATE: With Atlanta United’s 3-0 win Saturday night, the Five Stripes are now on top of the Eastern Conference table. The Union need a win or a draw to regain first place.
Looking back to the Union’s last match against DC United is not a pleasant memory. DCU had knocked the Union out of the US Open Cup. DC United didn’t get much farther, as they got knocked out themselves the following week at the hands of New York City FC. Since then the Black-and-Red have gone 2-2-3 in MLS action since then. That’s not setting the world on fire, but its been good enough to keep them within shouting distance of the first-place Union. After 24 matches, the Union have 39 points to DCU’s 36. Both teams have a goal differential of +5, so placement at the top of table is at stake (though Atlanta United, also with 36 points and a goal differential of +9 could take the top place if they beat LA Galaxy on Saturday). The recipe for staying in first place is simple: win, and they won’t have to worry about what the other teams do.
But that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to win on the road in MLS, and the last two times the Union have attempted that both ended in disaster with 4-0 losses, first to Real Salt Lake, then to the Montreal Impact. The Union will hope to have better luck this week, but they’ll have to play better than they have been.
The big question hanging over the club is the health of midfielder Jamiro Monteiro. He has proven to be a difference maker. The Union are a first place team with him. Without him, they are only mediocre. Montiero has been back in training this week, but it remains to be seen if he will be on the gameday 18 on Sunday. Even if he starts, chances are his fitness won’t be good enough to carry him for 90 minutes.
There are other questions too. Will Marco Fabian, who has shown flashes of greatness, start being the star DP playmaker the Union are paying him to be? Will newly acquired striker Andrew Wooten get some minutes or perhaps even start? Can Andre Blake rebound from his under-par performance last week? Will head coach Jim Curtin finally bench right back Raymon Gaddis after his putrid defending the last couple of matches? (Never mind, we already know the answer to that is no). Will Curtin give his overworked veterans Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya a much needed break? (Never mind about that either, we know they’ll both be in the starting XI).
One thing we don’t have to question is the return of Kai Wagner at left back after being suspended for last week’s match against the Impact because of yellow card accumulation. A healthy Wagner and Monteiro could get the Union back to their winning ways.
DC United has firepower. They have one of MLS’s top studs in striker Wayne Rooney, and his wingmen are Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, both very capable of putting the ball into the back of the net. And they will also have the home field advantage for this match. Considering that Monteiro is just getting back after missing almost a full month, the Union will not be at full strength. Hopefully, they’ll avoid another road blowout, but until they show me something better than I’ve seen from them in July, I can’t predict a win. I can’t even predict a draw. This will be the week the Union drop out of first place. Prediction: DC United 2, Union 1.