At a risk of stating the obvious, there’s nonetheless great and simple truths in the words of D.C. United veteran defender Bobby Boswell regarding neighbor and nemesis Philadelphia:
“Anytime there’s a team that’s close to you in proximity, you have bragging rights for the cities,” Boswell said to MLSSoccer.com of the teams separated by about 140 miles via Interstate 95. “They’re a conference team and it always seems to be a close, hard-fought game. Any time you have tackles flying around and low scores, it’s usually one of those things where one team really wants to win.”
They renew their rivalry Friday at Talen Energy Stadium with Philly (4-3-3, 15 points) slightly ahead in a tightly bunched playoff tier. Third-place Philly is only two points behind leader New York City FC, which edged into the top spot by earning a 1-1 tie at Toronto Wednesday night, and only two points ahead of sixth-place D.C. (3-4-4), which impressively beat the Red Bulls last Friday night, 2-0.
The Union carved out a pair of ties last week against the Galaxy (2-2) at home and Montreal (1-1) in Canada. Every team in the Eastern Conference except the Red Bulls has at least three ties, and thus only four points separates leader NYC FC from the seventh-place Revs, which is tied with D.C. in points (13).
“[We] need to back it up now on Friday night with a good performance at home in a packed house against a strong D.C. United team,” said head coach Jim Curtin in his weekly press conference. “A team that’s coming off of one of their best performances, against Red Bull, a good, organized team that competes and fights, and represents their coach. So, we’ll have our hands full to get three points here on Friday.”
The games marks a reunion for attacker Chris Pontius, who played his first seven eight seasons for United prior to being traded during the winter. Pontius, 29, has scored four goals and registered two assists in 10 games for Philly; last year, while battling injuries as he has for much of the past few seasons, Pontius managed just three goals and one assist in 23 games.
“I talked with him about it today,” said Curtin. “Chris has had a great season, he’s been excellent for us offensively and defensively. We believe in Chris.
“Yes, he wears a different jersey now; I just told him today to do exactly what he’s been doing: don’t try to do too much, don’t try to do too little, just be Chris Pontius and that will take care of itself. He’s a winner and hopefully it carries over on Friday night.”
SKC STILL HAS ISSUES TO SORT OUT. The heroics of substitute Jacob Peterson helped Sporting Kansas City snap a seven-game unbeaten streak by rallying to beat Orlando City SC, 2-1, on Sunday.
SKC had rained 30 shots – en route to an MLS record 34 – but failed to score when Peterson entered the match in the 69th minute, just two minutes after a Jimmy Medranda own goal had broken open a 0-0 tie.
After just five minutes, SKC tied the game when Peterson relayed a scooped pass from Benny Feilhaber to Dom Dwyer, who nodded in the equalizer. Peterson got the winner five minutes later when he got his head to a Roger Espinoza chip to the far post and buried his 10th goal for SKC.
“Jake hasn't played a lot of minutes this year,” manager Peter Vermes said of Peterson, who had just one 14-minute stint on his ledger prior to the match . “The fact that he comes in here and he holds true to the first value we have as a group -- that is, the team's first -- whether he held a grudge or not, he didn't show it on the field. If he did, he displayed in a way and a fashion that's professional.”
SKC is the fourth MLS stop for Peterson, 30, who started his pro career with Colorado in 2006. Against OCSC, he replaced Brad Davis, one of several attackers left frustrated despite a rampant offensive display.
“I thought we were in good spots the whole time,” he said. “I think maybe we just lacked maybe a little bit of the aggressiveness in the box, and that's what Pete and the coaching staff told me – to come on and do that. But I thought the guys were doing excellent, and it was only a matter of time before we scored.”
Vermes lauded an excellent team effort throughout the 90 minutes, the lack of which has plagued SKC several times already this season. Repeated mistakes have been cited by Vermes as the roots of a winless streak; after Sunday’s win he praised the fortitude which drove the team to victory after it handed the opposition a goal when Medranda accidentally directed a cross past keeper Tim Melia.
SKC hadn’t tasted victory since April 9.
“At the end of the day, the focus should be on how good of a team we are when we play the way we did tonight,” Vermes said. “We have that in us and when we do, I think it’s very tough to play against us.”