(Bill Hamid photo courtesy Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
Because of tiebreakers, D.C. United technically cannot take first place in the Eastern Conference if they beat Philadelphia at home Sunday. But they could create a three-way tie at 39 points with the Union and Atlanta United if they win at Audi Field.
The Black and Red (9-9-6) have two fewer wins than both Philadelphia and Atlanta, which is the primary tiebreaker to separate teams. D.C. United does enter this match with the same plus-5 goal difference as Philadelphia, albeit with 10 fewer goals allowed as the league’s second-stingiest unit with 24 conceded.
Ben Olsen’s team is looking to extend a seven-match unbeaten run at Audi Field (3-4-0), but D.C. United is still looking for traction after a three-match road swing before the All-Star break ended with four points and no goals in the final two contests following a draw at Chicago on July 27.
“Other than LAFC, I think Philly has been the most consistent team in the league,” Olsen noted to the club’s official website Wednesday. “It’s clear to the players and the staff there needs to be an urgency to play better and pick up points. We all want to sharpen things up, particularly at home, so that’s what we’re working on.”
All-Star striker Wayne Rooney is trying to avoid going without a goal or an assist in back-to-back games for just the second time this year – the other being a three-game stretch from April 6-21. The Black and Red are 1-4-4 when Rooney – who has team highs of 11 goals and seven assists while factoring on more than half the team’s 31 goals in league play – fails to register either.
The drought is more pronounced for playmaker Luciano Acosta, who has gone five matches without a goal or an assist. The pair were on the same wavelength for much of last season following Rooney’s arrival, and the Argentine has just five goals and two assists in 2019 after totaling 10 and 17, respectively, last year.
Philadelphia (11-6-7) also staggered into the All-Star break to a degree with just two wins in seven matches (2-2-3). Some of those woes can be traced to a leaky defense, which has given No. 1 keeper Andre Blake little help in back-to-back 4-0 road defeats. The Union have gone nine road matches without a clean sheet, shipping 20 goals in those games and losing three of the last four.
“Defensively, we need to get back to being difficult to play against,” coach Jim Curtin said, “and not concede something from nothing. We haven’t taken the amount of points that we like to but we’re still sitting in first place at the All-Star break. … We have 900 minutes left in the regular season and every minute has to play at the intensity of the playoffs.”
The Union have gone 228 minutes without a road goal since Fafa Picault capped the scoring of their 3-1 victory at Orlando City on July 3. Philadelphia put three shots on target combined in their last two away matches, but help could be on the way as playmaker Jamiro Monteiro returned to practice this week. Monteiro, who missed the last four matches with a sprained ankle suffered on a red card challenge by Sacha Klejstan, has a team-leading seven assists in 16 matches.
Philadelphia has won the last four regular-season meetings between the teams, but D.C. United recorded a 2-1 victory after extra time in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup at home last month. The teams played to a scoreless draw before a frantic final seven minutes of the second extra period, during which Anthony Fontana gave Philadelphia the lead in the 113th minute and Chris McCann equalized five minutes later before Rooney converted a penalty at the death.