DC ready, waiting for hard-nosed rivals from Philadelphia

WASHINGTON — Another chapter of a budding regional rivalry will be written this weekend, as D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union meet for the third time ever in league play on Saturday (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

One year after debuting in MLS, the Union come into the matchup playing extremely well in just their second season in the league. They currently sit in first place in the Eastern Conference, and United — despite the midweek reinforcements of Dwayne De Rosario and Brandon McDonald — are wary of the magnitude of the meeting.

“Philly is obviously ahead of us in the standings and they’re on a tear right now,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “We’ve got to figure things out quick, integrate these new guys into the team and figure out a way to win.”

After a slow start offensively, Philadelphia have settled into a groove, with only one loss in their last seven games. They’ve won three and drawn three along that stretch.

The game also marks the return of Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak, a familiar face around RFK Stadium. He coached D.C. United to their last championship back in 2004, and has brought his brand of hard-working soccer to a new team and has them playing well.

Several United players are familiar with Philadelphia’s manager and know what to expect.

“I know Peter Nowak, played with him for five years,” said forward Josh Wolff, who suited up with Nowak while with the Chicago Fire. “He’s exactly what you see on the sideline — fiery, feisty and he’s got his group working hard, and that’s half the battle in MLS.”

Not only is this a big game for DC because of the standings, but it is also a chance to continue building a rivalry because of Philadelphia’s proximity.

Midfielder Clyde Simms thinks that adds something a little extra because of the ease of travel for away support.

“I think it’s great,” Simms  said. “Anytime fans can just drive [down] to support their team, it’ll definitely create a rivalry, even more so than New York.”

Injury problems continue to linger, however, for DC. Defender Jed Zayner suffered a sprained knee earlier in the week, while left back Daniel Woolard injured his back and sat out training on Thursday.

There was good news, however, as forward Charlie Davies, who sat out training on Tuesday after suffering a minor ankle sprain against Houston, was back and said his ankle felt fine.

“It’s good, got the run out today, no problems,” he said on Thursday. “I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

New acquisitions De Rosario and McDonald both played with the first team during an 11-on-11 scrimmage Thursday and are likely to debut against the Union.

Travis Clark covers D.C. United, College and Youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @travismclark.