WASHINGTON — D.C. United’s next stop in their quest for the playoffs takes them into uncharted territory.
Because last year’s trip to Philadelphia came before the Union's PPL Park opened, D.C. United will get their first taste of the atmosphere and environment there on Thursday night in front of a nationally televised audience (8 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
But the venue is the least of their worries.
“I don’t know if it’s any more special than a Portland or Seattle or places these guys have played in,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “I’m not so concerned about that. I’m concerned about how our approach is and making sure we put on the defensive effort as a group, like we did on Saturday [against Real Salt Lake] because it always translates into us being a better offensive team.”
As D.C. United and around 200 of their supporters make the short ride up I-95 to Philly, two familiar faces will be on the other side for the Union. Former head coach Peter Nowak and recent addition Freddy Adu, who first joined MLS with D.C. United back in 2004, are set to face their old team.
Olsen was a teammate of Adu’s during the first few years of the teen prodigy’s professional career, though he admitted to have only watched him a couple of times since his return. However, he could see Adu line up against D.C. for the very first time.
But Olsen isn't just concerned about one Union player.
“It’s a good group,” he said. “I saw them against Kansas City the other night. It was a very entertaining game, back and forth. Their attacking group’s great, [Sébastien] Le Toux’s doing some impressive stuff as of late.”
There are questions whether Adu starts or not on Thursday as he recently recovered from an ankle injury. Regardless, D.C. will have to cope with Union’s other attacking pieces — the likes of Le Toux and Danny Mwanga — in order to come away from PPL with any points.
“This is going to be a very difficult game,” midfielder Dwayne De Rosario said. “Philly and Peter obviously know the importance of this game. He’s going to get his team prepared and I know they’re going to do a lot of videos and looking at ways to figure out ways to close [us] down.”
Travis Clark covers D.C. United, college and youth soccer for MLSsoccer.com