March 31, 2017
D.C. United hasn't scored a goal in 2017.
The Philadelphia Union haven't won a game since August.
Unless we have to suffer through a scoreless draw, one of those things will change on Saturday night when the Eastern Conference rivals meet at RFK Stadium in the District of Columbia.
It's a strange game for the Union, who prepare for an opponent that has likely been stewing on a string of disappointing results to start the year.
D.C. opened the season with a nil-nil against Kansas City, then lost 4-0 at New York City and 2-0 to Columbus at home.
"It’s a scary thing," Union head coach Jim Curtin said this week. "You don’t want them to be the team that breaks out against you, right? (D.C. coach Ben Olsen) is a guy who is as hard a worker as there is in our league. He has a good team. If you actually look at the performances and watch the games, as we have now on tape, they’re creating chances and they’re dangerous. Obviously, I think (Patrick) Mullins has a hamstring issue so he might not play a role. But they have a lot of dynamic attackers. You look at Lloyd Sam, (Patrick) Nyarko has given us fits over the past years. (Luciano) Acosta, who, when he gets going, his first game back against Columbus, he’s a handful, he pops up all over the field."
For what it's worth, Mullins is now listed as "out" on the D.C. United injury report.
Curtin is right about the scoring chances. United were carving out opportunities in those three prior games.
In the Columbus loss, D.C. put up 13 shots to the Crew's seven, but only fired three on target.
They also out-shot New York City 13-9 at Yankee Stadium, but only put four on frame.
Only in the season opener was D.C. out-performed in this category. United put six of nine shots on frame while Kansas City had 15 attempts.
It's not for lack of trying, but the goals just haven't come.
"It’s dangerous when you see they haven’t scored a goal because you know they have a potent ability to break out like they did at the end of last season," Curtin added. "They were hot and really clicking on all cylinders. We’re hoping we can keep them… not from catching fire, but keep them quiet on the attacking side of things. That’ll be our goal. I’m sure Ben is working hard this week to prepare, just like we are. It’s going to be two teams that are fighting for points early on. Obviously, it’s their third home game, it’ll be our third away game. So there are different challenges in the schedule early on, but one where we know we need to go there with some confidence and get points."
With Mullins unlikely to play, you'll probably see 24-year old newcomer Jose Guillermo Ortiz in the starting lineup. The Costa Rica striker has appeared as a substitute in all three United games.
Another option is former Union forward Sebastien Le Toux, who joined D.C. as a free agent this winter after spending the second half of 2016 with Colorado following a mid-season trade.
Le Toux played 30 minutes in the Columbus loss and should see some game time either as a forward or winger in Saturday's match.
"Of course he wants to play," Curtin said. "Sebastien is a professional, I’m sure he’d like to be out there. I’m sure he’d like to score against us, for sure. That’s the nature of pro sports. You see it so often. Guys move from one club to the other and there’s a chip on their shoulder to score against their old team. That’s the nature of pro sports. He served our club incredibly, he scored a ton of goals for the Philadelphia Union. He’s been a guy who has scored in big games for us. I’m sure it’s a big game for him, and he’d like to score against the Union. They’ve had some injuries at the forward position, so I wouldn’t be surprised, knowing Ben, if he plays a bunch of minutes against us."