WASHINGTON - D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City will meet on Saturday night in a battle for eastern conference supremacy.
Sporting’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference is hardly a surprise. Defending MLS Cup champions, Kansas City have been one of MLS’ most consistent performers over the past several years. United’s, however, is a bit more unheard of, as the black and red find themselves in the midst of the greatest turnaround in MLS history.
Divergent paths, yes, but that doesn’t matter at this point. Whoever wins on Saturday evening (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live) at Sporting Park will sit alone atop the Eastern Conference, and will possibly wrap their hands around the Supporters’ Shield lead, for the time being.
“We’ve had a couple of times [where we could’ve been in] first place where we’ve come up short, and we should’ve done better,” said D.C. United outside back Sean Franklin after training on Friday morning. "This is another chance - this is important this time of the year, given how close we are in the Supporters’ Shield race, and important for playoff position.”
Added Davy Arnaud: "The group is excited, you can feel it in the group. There’s that vibe right now that this is a big game."
While Arnaud and Franklin are placing just a bit of added importance on Saturday’s match, United head coach Ben Olsen is seeing things a bit more pragmatically. The match in Kansas City is United’s second of three matches in a one-week span that began with a CONCACAF Champions League victory over Waterhouse FC on Wednesday and will conclude with a mid-week matchup against Los Angeles next Wednesday, and Olsen downplayed the importance of the battle for first place in the East.
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“We’re playing to get points,” Olsen said Friday. “Yeah, sure, our group is certainly excited to go to KC and see what we’re worth. We’re confident in the group that will be there on Saturday that we can get a result.
"We’re solely focused on KC right now. And after that we’ll solely be focused on LA. Away games in this league are always difficult whether you're fresh or the minutes have been piling on."
As for what he makes of Kansas City’s performances this year, including the meteoric rise of forward Dom Dwyer -- who just a year ago was plying his trade in USL PRO and now finds himself a shade off the golden boot lead -- Olsen seemed focused on the task at hand and didn’t feel the need to expound very much on that topic.
“They’ve done a good job this year,” Olsen said, matter-of-factly. “They’re in first place. That's about all I’ve got to say about Kansas City."