Kick Off: Union relish shot to trip up rival DC's playoff run

Kick Off - John Hackworth, Philadelphia Union

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The ball is in your court, D.C. United.

A victory by the Columbus Crew last night pushed D.C. out of the playoff picture once again, but the Black-and-Red can remedy that with a win tonight at rivals Philadelphia Union (8 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Watch the preview of the match, which had plenty of fireworks the last time these two teams met in August: late drama, retaken penalty kicks and red cards.

The Union realize that D.C. United are in the middle of a playoff push and they relish the chance to trip up their enemies: “Nothing could be sweeter,” said Union manager John Hackworth who called the match a classic derby game. “We owe it to them. We want to put a little dent in their playoff hopes.”

The last time D.C. United won on the road was in Philadelphia on June 16 and this is the memory that D.C. defender Dejan Jakovic has from that match: “We got our asses kicked and ended up stealing a win from them. … It’s definitely going to be a big challenge for us.”

In the absence of MVP Dwayne De Rosario, D.C. United need the contribution of their bigger names – namely Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi – to complement the likes of Chris Pontius. The Washington Post examines the Salihi situation in this article. The DP forward admits: “I have never before been in this situation, not playing,” he told the Post. “At some point you think you can’t play.”

As far as the No. 1 seed in the East is concerned, Sporting Kansas City took a massive step in securing home-field advantage in their conference by becoming the first team to beat New York at Red Bull Arena. Two set-piece goals inside the first 20 minutes were enough to bury the Red Bulls, who struggled to match Sporting’s energy and intensity (watch the highlights here).

Sporting came through with a victory despite getting to bed at 3 am the night before. Travel delays made for a nightmare trip to New York. “The guys had a great attitude about the unfortunate circumstances,” said manager Peter Vermes. “What are you going to do? It's weather. Everybody understood. The guys were great.”

While SKC’s win may have impressed observers, New York DP Tim Cahill was not among them: “I don't there's anything special to their team," Cahill said of SKC. "I think we didn't perform tonight.”

Red Bulls star Thierry Henry instead decided to give SKC their due: “Overall, they played better,” he said. “Let’s not hide behind anything. They deserve to be first, and they are.”

Giving up early goals and set pieces has plagued the Red Bulls and Rafa Márquez likens it to a disease: "It's a little bit of the cancer I would call it, that we have from the beginning of the season and it's always up to the coaching staff to identify to try to change it."

It was a good night for Sporting Kansas City after the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes getting held to a 2-2 draw at home to the Portland Timbers (watch the highlights here). That result allowed SKC to move within just three points of the Quakes in the Supporters’ Shield race (see the standings here).

After the Timbers took a 2-0 advantage on a brace by little-used forward Danny Mwanga, San Jose manager Frank Yallop brought on Golden Boot leader Chris Wondolowski, who scored a brace of his own, including a stoppage-time equalizer: “I think I just tried to put 90 minutes in 30 minutes of play,” Wondolowski said. “I was a bit fired up out there.”

Fired up enough to get into a jawing match with Portland defender David Horst as the match concluded with both teams getting in each other’s faces: “We're a lot of dogs out there,” Wondo said. “Just a lot of bark."

Forward Alan Gordon also came off the bench to aid the comeback, part of what Yallop calls “the crazy gang.” Gordon wants everyone around the league to take notice of Wednesday night’s stoppage-time draw: "If there are any nonbelievers out there, they should watch this game," Gordon said. "It's not luck. It's no mistake."

The Timbers might disagree with Gordon. On the field they felt that Wondolowski was offside on the equalizer and Portland interim manager Gavin Wilkinson made sure to make his displeasure known: "I thought the officiating was very poor tonight," Wilkinson said. "I did not think it was managed well. There were many, many decisions that could have changed the game."

Similar to San Jose, the Columbus Crew had a supersub of their own come through for them with a late goal last night. Justin Meram came off the bench to score the 89th-minute winner against Chivas USA that put the Crew back into the fifth and final playoff spot in the East, supplanting D.C. United (watch the highlights here).

It turns out the goal came two minutes after the referee asked Meram to place his Kirk Urso wristband inside his sock: “My man Kirk, I love you to death, was with me tonight,” said Meram.

In CONCACAF Champions League play, the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to advance to the quarterfinals with a 3-2 win over Marathón in Honduras (watch the highlights here). Now they can focus on MLS Cup and the San Jose Earthquakes this weekend: “It’s a goal we set for ourselves that we wanted to qualify tonight,” Sounders manager Sigi Schmid said. “We were able to accomplish that. I was really proud.”

The LA Galaxy also moved closer to a berth in the quarterfinals after a 0-0 draw at the Puerto Rico Islanders (watch the highlights here). Manager Bruce Arena fielded a Galaxy reserve side which was boosted by superstar Landon Donovan. But the star of the show was goalkeeper Brian Perk, who earned Arena’s praise.

The Houston Dynamo will also look to put themselves in great position tonight when they host CD FAS of El Salvador at BBVA Compass Stadium (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer). Although manager Dominic Kinnear promises “a major rotation” in the lineup, the Dynamo will want to run up the goal differential ahead of the decisive home finale against Olimpia. Here are the group standings going into tonight’s match.

The CONCACAF Champions League has left Real Salt Lake reeling despite a 1-0 victory at Tauro FC on Tuesday. RSL have lost forward Álvaro Saborío to a shoulder injury suffered on the foul he drew for the game-winning PK. It will keep him out for two to four weeks.

During that same period, the Vancouver Whitecaps will be at home for the next few weeks with four straight matches at BC Place. That sounds great to defender Andy O’Brien, who makes heavy use of the city’s train system to get to and from practice every day: "It's easy enough, the train. And it makes you feel like you've got a normal job, if that makes sense."

Former Dynamo player Geoff Cameron is trying to keep everything normal as he navigates his way on EPL club Stoke City. A potential suspension for a teammate could force him to fill in at right back, but newspapers are equally curious as to whether he’ll be trying an oatcake anytime soon.

Good luck keeping up with the Europa League action this afternoon with BSC Young Boys vs. Liverpool (1 pm ET, Fox Soccer), Maritimo vs. Newcastle (1 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus), Hapoel Tel Aviv vs. Atlético Madrid (1 pm ET, ESPN Deportes), Inter Milan vs. Rubin Kazan (3 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus and ESPN Deportes) and Tottenham Hotspur vs. Lazio (3 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

Although Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué was forced out of yesterday’s UEFA Champions League match with an injury, things are looking good for him and his significant other Shakira: They’re expecting a baby.

Meanwhile, more pregame handshake talk this week in England. After all the Anton Ferdinand-John Terry talk last week, it seems like Patrice Evra and Luis Suárez will in fact extend a hand to one another in the weekend battle between Manchester United and Liverpool.

We caught him. Is that FC Dallas fan Dirk Nowitzki we’re seeing posing with a Valencia jersey? (See photo here)

Finally, wild stuff in the Asian Champions League quarterfinals between Sepahan and Al Ahli: A player tosses a piece of debris to the side and watches it explode, sending teammates and referees scurrying for cover. (VIDEO)

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