Union regulars likely to return for playoff-race clash vs. DC

Freddy Adu and Danny Mwanga

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CHESTER, Pa. – For the Philadelphia Union players, getting fired up for Thursday’s critical nationally televised game against rivals D.C. United at PPL Park (8 pm ET; ESPN2, LIVE CHAT) won’t be an issue. The massive playoff ramifications — a win would put the Union back into a playoff position in second place in the East — ensure they will be plenty motivated.

Question is, who will be on the field when the game begins?

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Less than a week after five key starters were sidelined in a 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City, the Union hope to be a lot healthier when D.C. United come to town for a game with huge playoff implications. When asked about the injury front, though, Philly manager Peter Nowak gave few solid answers.

“Some of the players are still coming back so we have to make game-day decisions whether to insert them into the game,” Nowak said. “We have some knocks here and there. We just want to make sure we’re healthy beyond this game. On Sunday, we play Chivas USA, so we’ve got to make sure we have a full roster.”

Against Sporting Kansas City last weekend, the Union were without defender Sheanon Williams (concussion), midfielders Freddy Adu (right ankle sprain) and Justin Mapp (left quad strain), and forward Danny Mwanga (right hip flexor strain) – on top of the injury to goalie Faryd Mondragón, who’s been out since Sept. 3 with a broken finger.

Only Mondragón and fellow ’keeper Thorne Holder (concussion) have already been ruled out for Thursday’s game, meaning rookie Zac MacMath will get his fifth straight start in net, with new acquisition Chase Harrison backing him up.

Meanwhile, Mapp wasn’t even listed on the early injury report, and Nowak indicated that Williams, Adu and Mwanga should all be ready, if he chooses to play them. Adu, who will be facing his former team for the first time, hopes to get that opportunity.

“I’ve been training on [my ankle] the last couple of days,” Adu said. “Obviously it’s just a little but sore but that’s expected. I feel good. If I get called upon to play, I’ll be ready mentally and physically.”

While it’s critical for Philly to keep players healthy and fresh for the stretch run, which includes two games in the next four days, the Union could certainly use a full deck against a strong D.C. squad that’s lurking just below them in the Eastern Conference table.

Currently, the Union (9-7-13, 40 points) and D.C. United (9-8-11, 38 points) are in fourth and sixth place, respectively, but both have games in hand on the teams in front of them in the crowded conference and could jump a couple of spots with a win.

“This is crunch time,” Adu said. “It’s going to be just like a playoff game.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com