While D.C. United wound down the clock at RFK Stadium, there were only a handful of chances to be on national TV every year. Newer teams, newer stadiums, and bigger stars were all given more exposure, hiding United away from the limelight in MLS. That’s all changed now, with Wayne Rooney leading the line, and Audi Field now home to the most successful team in league history.
To drive that point home, United will host Los Angeles Football Club this Saturday, in a game that will be nationally televised on Fox. It’s a clash between the teams atop their respective conferences, led by superstar players, off to great starts in 2019.
“A big early match up. An early, sexy game,” United head coach Ben Olsen described the match up earlier this week. “Should be fun.”
While the Black-and-Red have picked up 10 points from their first four games, LAFC lead the league with 13 points from five games. A couple of weeks ago, United took apart Real Salt Lake 5-0, but LAFC matched that this past week, going on the road and dismantling the San Jose Earthquakes by the same scoreline.
And while Rooney has started the season well, scoring four goals and adding three helpers, his counterpart, Carlos Vela is in fantastic form as well, with six goals and three assists to his name in just five games.
“People are talking about [Vela] being the MVP already, that’s how well he’s playing,” United defender Chris McCann, who will likely start at left back for the injured Joseph Mora, told reporters earlier this week.
Saturday’s game between the table-toppers is the third time this season that United will have played in a nationally televised game. In total, 13 of their games come on a national stage, a sign of just how the fortunes at the club have changed around, since the days at RFK.
But that is a byproduct of the state that the club now finds themselves in. Rooney came in halfway through last season, and immediately helped change this club’s fortunes. Audi Field was a big part of that as well, as have been the production of many of the players surrounding Rooney.
Which has turned the meeting with LAFC, only the second between the two clubs, into a big deal this weekend. In addition to Vela, LAFC have Diego Rossi manning the wing to cause headaches for opposing teams. And that’s before mentioning the duo of Christian Ramirez and Adama Diomande, one of which will lead the line on Saturday.
“They are in very good form. They’re well coached, they have an MVP-caliber player [in Vela],” added Olsen. “They pose a bunch of different threats, and defensively they’ve been sound as well.”
Opposite Olsen is Bob Bradley, who has one of the better careers as an American manager. Famously, Bradley won the 1998 MLS Cup with the expansion Chicago Fire, who beat United in the final. Since then, Bradley led the US during the 2010 World Cup, almost took Egypt to the 2014 version, and had varying amounts of success with European club teams.
Since his return to MLS, he has made last year’s expansion side a force to be reckoned with, which is what adds so much intrigue to this Saturday’s game.
Of course, as usual, United aren’t too bothered about what their opponents will bring to the table. United have gotten to the point they are so far this year by focusing on their play, and making sure they are in sync from week to week.
“We’re going to keep playing our game, and focusing during the week on what we do best,” midfield stalwart Junior Moreno said this week through an interpreter.
Olsen summarized the team’s mood: “We will have our hands full. Hopefully, so will they.”