Does the fact that D.C. United frequently plays the Philadelphia Union require a league-mandated rivalry cup? Is this whole thing an attempt to direct the Black-and-Red toward a new rival so the energy drink hucksters of northern New Jersey are free to find a new rival in the Big Apple? Will any of this off-field business impact what goes on in this game?
I don't know the answers to the first two questions, but I'm pretty sure the third one is a solid "no." United vs. Union has always been a battle on the field, even if the two sets of fans get along. The familiarity starts on the field, with Philly likely starting one or two ex-DC players, a former United academy player, a one-time United transfer target, and two more players who played college ball in the District. It extends off the field, too, with Ben Olsen hailing from Pennsylvania and Earnie Stewart and Chris Albright - both in the Union front office - both having spent most of their MLS years with the Black-and-Red.
United will look at this game as yet another opportunity to prove they can string good performances together after a consistently inconsistent spring. Philadelphia, meanwhile, have surprised most people by looking solid and picking up points. No one is talking up the Union as an MLS Cup contender, but there's also no one treating them like the mess they've usually been over the years. If United is going to climb up the table in an Eastern Conference that is there for the taking, they're going to have to be able to put one over on their most familiar foe.
Key Player: Steve Birnbaum
With CJ Sapong scoring at a good clip, Chris Pontius flying in from the wing, and two fullbacks who are capable of delivering quality crosses, the Union will challenge United through the air. Bobby Boswell will need play his part, of course, but Birnbaum is going to have to dominate the penalty area for the Black-and-Red. With Sebastien Le Toux, Fabinho, and Keegan Rosenberry whipping in crosses and no elite central creator on the field, Birnbaum's ability to win in the air is going to be a major factor if United is going to bring a point or three home.
At the other end of the field, the Union aren't a very good defensive team on set pieces. Philly has no one capable of marking Birnbaum one-on-one, and they'll likely be focused on obstructing his runs to prevent having to go up and win the aerial battle. United needs to make sure their corners and free kicks are precise, and other options inside the box need to help Birnbaum get free to attack the ball.
Location: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, PA)
Kick-off time: 7:00pm Eastern
Available TV: UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes USA (Spanish)
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted an hour before kickoff.