Washington, D.C. (SportsNetwork.com) - The Philadelphia Union will be out to maintain their playoff position on Saturday when they head to RFK Stadium to face lowly D.C. United.
The Union dropped out of the playoff discussion behind a five-game winless run from Aug. 17 to Sept. 14., but they have won two straight, both by 1-0 scorelines against Eastern Conference opposition, to climb to fifth place in the East on 45 points.
The return to form began on Sept. 27 when the Union claimed a shock win over Kansas City at Sporting Park, a result that they were able to build upon last weekend with a defeat of Toronto FC at PPL Park.
The Union cannot afford to underestimate D.C. United, despite the club's position at the foot of the Eastern Conference table.
Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth, who is quite familiar with Ben Olsen having coached alongside the D.C. boss at the 2012 MLS All-Star Game, expects a tough test as United looks to play the role of the spoiler down the stretch.
"I know Ben, and Ben is a competitor," Hackworth said of his counterpart. "That's evident in the way he played the game and the way he coaches the game. There's no question in my mind that he's going to have his guys ready to play. I know that they'll try to win the game."
As bad as United's MLS campaign has been, they were able to take solace from their U.S. Open Cup run, which culminated in a 1-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake in the final last week. But, true to form, D.C. followed the monumental victory with a debilitating 3-0 home loss to the Chicago Fire in MLS regular season play at the weekend.
D.C. rested a few key players in the match against Chicago following the Open Cup final, but Hackworth is expecting Olsen to field a competitive side on Saturday in an effort to get a head start on the 2014 season.
"They'll put a team on the field that they think can win the game, and mixed in there, there might be some changes, and some young players, similar to what we did last year," Hackworth said. "They're truly in a growth phase right now. They have to figure out, going forward into next year who makes sense for them. That tells me as a coach that it's going to be a competitive game, one that we should not take lightly at all."
A key to the game should prove to be the first goal of the affair.
D.C. United is 0-18-2 when conceding the opening goal in regular season play while Philadelphia is 11-1-3 when scoring first. Conversely, United has posted a more respectable 3-4-1 record when scoring first while the Union's 1-9-3 record when allowing the first goal shows that Hackworth's men have lacked the ability to come from behind this season.