CHESTER, Pa. – The last time the Philadelphia Union played at RFK Stadium, there were three ejections, a couple of controversial calls and even a shoving match between D.C. United teammates after the final whistle blew.
What do the Union expect when they go back to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United on Sunday (5 p.m., ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com)?
“I hope we don’t have the antics that happened late in that game,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “At the same time, I wouldn’t go down there expecting anything less.”
Yes, it’s become that kind of rivalry between the nearby Eastern Conference teams.
When asked if he’s ever played in a game as crazy as the 1-1 draw between Philly and D.C. last August, Union fullback Sheanon Williams pointed to the Union-D.C. United game from this past preseason that got just as heated.
“I think it comes from the cities,” Williams said. “Philly doesn’t like Washington and Washington doesn’t like Philly. I think we can sense that between the fans. And obviously them being an Eastern Conference team, that makes them a foe. I don’t know why there is so much bad blood but there’s definitely something there.”
Williams, who got sent off very late in last year’s matchup at RFK after picking up a controversial second yellow card, added that he hopes there aren’t quite as many antics on Sunday because “we want to do what we like to do and that doesn’t include red cards and stupid fouls.”
“It’s definitely tough,” the Union right back said. “You get some blood rushing to your head and you want to do something that maybe you wouldn’t do normally. You just have to think about how that will affect your team, and if it’s going to be in a negative way, then you try to hold back and restrain yourself. You go out there to help the team, not to hurt them. You have to keep your cool and do what you need to do.”
But he also knows that because of the rivalry and recent history between the two clubs, he may have to work even harder than usual to control his emotions.
Hackworth also spoke about the importance of not getting caught up in the heat of the moment, even though he recently joked with D.C. United coach Ben Olsen that “whether it’s preseason, Open Cup or a league game, it seems to get the better of both teams.”
“There’s a lot of emotion around it,” Hackworth said. “You have to remind guys to keep that in check and use it in a positive way.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.