A three-game stretch at home saw D.C. United extend their unbeaten streak to eight matches while cruising to the top of the MLS standings. However, it also left United's schedule out of balance, having played 70% of their games at RFK Stadium. Today, they visit a badly listing Philadelphia Union side for the first of three straight road games.
Unsurprisingly, the Black-and-Red are heavy favorites. Ben Olsen's side is leading the Supporters Shield race, while Philly has the worst points-per-game record in MLS. The Union are troubled by more than just their record, as injuries, suspensions, bad signings, and bad luck have all combined to leave them at their lowest point since joining the league. It's desperation time for Philadelphia, while for DCU it's a chance to expand their lead over the rest of the Eastern Conference to five points.
Key player: Miguel Aguilar
This might be going out on a limb, but hear me out: Nick DeLeon is apparently more questionable than probable. Luis Silva has not played more than 54 minutes in 2015, and even when 100% fit usually play no more than 70. Chris Pontius played 90 minutes last weekend and again on Wednesday. Michael Farfan didn't have his best game against Orlando City, either.
Meanwhile, Aguilar's 24 minutes against the Lions saw him immediately terrorize the visitors on the dribble. He somehow created a chance for DeLeon despite being 1v4 in a broom closet moments after entering, and the free kick that became Kofi Opare's equalizer was also won by the former San Francisco Don. With the Union looking like a defensive mess at the best of times, it's a very inviting occasion for Aguilar to start. If United wants to prevent Philly from ever feeling positive about themselves today, being aggressive from the start is a good way to do that.
Of course, even if Aguilar is not given a start, he'll function as Ben Olsen's wild card today. The Union have a bad habit of leaving big gaps through the midfield, and Aguilar running at a tired Philly back four could be the recipe to kill the game off. Either way, I expect Aguilar to make a noteworthy impact at PPL Park tonight.
Key question: Can United make it easy on themselves for once?
It's great to be 6W-3D-1L after 10 games. That's Supporters Shield-winning form. However, it's worth pointing out that eight of United's ten games have been either ties or one-goal wins. The 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena and the 2-0 win over the Crew are the only games that weren't at least sort of tense at the end for the Black-and-Red.
Based on current form and morale, United should be able to beat the Union without having to fret their way through late corner kicks. Wednesday's ending - in which United had several long spells of possession during the final minutes against Orlando - was a step in the right direction. The next bit of progress to make is to have more than a one-goal lead to protect. Things don't always have to be difficult. It's time for United to effectively finish a game off before full time, and you do that by taking a two- or three-goal lead. That might sound greedy, but good teams are greedy. It would be nice to see United grab a more comfortable lead rather than simply hang onto a narrow margin.
Match date/time: Sunday 5/17, 7:00pm EST
Venue: PPL Park (Chester, PA)
TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), Fox Deportes (Spanish)
Online: Fox Sports Go (English)