D.C. United looks to get back on track against a con­tentious ri­val

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY RO­MAN STUBBS ro­man.stubbs@wash­post.com

The “al­ways com­bat­ive” na­ture of matches be­tween D.C. United and the New Eng­land Revo­lu­tion ex­tends to the early days of each fran­chise’s history, United Coach Ben Olsen ex­plained Fri­day as he ru­mi­nated about the clas­sic meet­ings be­tween the teams over the past two decades. That shared history adds a layer of in­trigue to Sun­day night’s match at RFK Sta­dium, a na­tion­ally tele­vised af­fair that car­ries im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s top two teams.

“We’ve al­ways had great games against New Eng­land,” Olsen said af­ter Fri­day’s prac­tice ses­sion.

United (8-5-4), which dropped its sec­ond straight match last week­end with a 1-0 set­back at Or­lando City, sits atop the Eastern Con­fer­ence stand­ings with 28 points. De­spite post­ing one vic­tory since May 2, the Revo­lu­tion (6-4-6) re­mainsin sec­ond place with 24 points and can tighten the race with a win Sun­day.

Fol­low­ing Sun­day’s match, United will em­bark on a four-game trip and won’t re­turn to RFK Sta­dium un­til July 26. The re­lent­less pace of the team’s sched­ule con­tin­ued this week. On Wed­nes­day, United pulled out a 3-1 vic­tory in a U.S. Open Cup match at Pittsburgh. The win came with mostly re­serves, but as the sec­ond half of the MLS reg­u­lar sea­son ar­rives, it added yet another dif­fi­cult wrin­kle to the team’s train­ing reg­i­men.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of fully or­ga­nized team train­ing. Just with the Open Cup game, coaches are gone and guys are gone and back and forth. It’s just get­ting our mind right more than any­thing,” United de­fender Bobby Boswell said. “I feel like it’s more about us when we’re at home. It’s not re­ally about the other team.”

United came away with a 1-1 draw against New Eng­land nearly a month ago — a dis­ap­point­ing re­sult, Olsen said, af­ter D.C. held a two-man ad­van­tage in the sec­ond half fol­low­ing two Revo­lu­tion red cards. United for­ward Jairo Ar­ri­eta, who leads the team with five goals this sea­son, pro­vided the equal­izer in the 80th minute of that game.

New Eng­land is win­less in six of its last seven MLS matches, its only vic­tory in that stretch com­ing with a2-0shutout of Chicago on June 13. The Revo­lu­tion is led of­fen­sively by for­mer D.C. United striker Char­lie Davies, who through the first half of the sea­son al­ready has twice as many goals (six) as his pre­vi­ous two sea­sons com­bined with New Eng­land.

Olsen said Fri­day that he was en­cour­aged with the de­fen­sive per­for­mance in the loss to Or­lando City, which marked the re­turn of de­fend­ers Tay­lor Kemp and Chris Korb af­ter they missed two games each be­cause of in­jury. Goal­keeper Bill Hamid also re­turned af­ter a two-game ab­sence with an undis­closed in­jury (he fin­ished with four saves), and Olsen con­tin­ued to trum­pet the team’s im­prov­ing health and depth af­ter Fri­day’s prac­tice ses­sion.

Kemp said he was com­fort­able in his re­turn to the lineup against Or­lando, which also pre­sented him with an op­por­tu­nity to read just toa pace of play that can’t be repli­cated in prac­tice.

“We are in a good place, but we feel that we should be in a bet­ter place than we are. We think we can have more points than we have right now. We’re a group that al­ways wants to move for­ward,” Kemps aid.

Midfielder Chris Pon­tius (hip) and de­fender Sean Franklin (an­kle) are both listed as ques­tion­able, although Olsen said Fri­day that Pon­tius is healthy enough to be con­sid­ered for the 18-man lineup this week­end. Headded that Franklin is still “slow,” but United has “more op­tions and more threats” Sun­day than it did a month ago when the two teams squared off at Gil­lette Sta­dium in Foxborough, Mass.

Olsen was dis­ap­pointed that United didn’t pull out a win in that match, although it was the 10th drawin se­ries history and the latest ex­am­ple of how closely con­tested the re­gional ri­valry has be­come. United owns a 29-26 all-time se­ries lead (the teams split two games last sea­son).

“It’s nice that we’re both at the top and are go­ing to have a na­tion­ally tele­vised game to see who the bet­ter team is on the day,” Olsen said.

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