With seven yellow cards, one red and 35 combined fouls against Toronto FC last Saturday, the Union were frustrated by the physical play, angered by the refereeing and close to unraveling, before Jack McInerney tied the game in stoppage time.
Now set to face bitter rival DC United at RFK Stadium on Sunday in what will likely be a another volatile contest, coach John Hackworth is asking his veterans for more on-field leadership.
“There were a couple incidents against Toronto where I would have preferred some better leadership out there,” Hackworth said. “Not better, because I don’t want to criticize [captain] Brian [Carroll] or anyone else, but I think there was a place for guys to say, ‘Hey, look. This is clearly what’s happening in this game, let’s settle down. Let's not worry about all this BS going on.’ We can’t control the officials and we can’t control the antics, it’s not our problem, so let's focus on us. We talked about it already and every guy in that locker room feels the same way.”
Since the Union joined the MLS in 2010, their battles with DC United have been extra physical and rife with fouls and bad blood. In 2012 alone, the Union and the United racked up 16 yellow cards and five red cards in just four US Open Cup and MLS regular-season games.
“I think just from the cities,” Union right back Sheanon 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 what makes it so much bad blood but there’s definitely something there. It just gets heated sometimes. Hopefully there won’t be any red cards or anything like that. We want to play a good game. We want to do what we like to do. That doesn’t include red cards and stupid fouls.”
The rivalry has been so heated, that even during preseason exhibition games the two clubs bumped heads. On Feb. 23 in Orlando, DC United’s Dwayne De Rosario got into an altercation with Danny Cruz, which saw De Rosario shown a straight red card and ejection.
“It happened again in preseason when we played them and we got a couple of red cards and a couple of other things,” Williams said. “It’s just a heated game any time we play them. Obviously, both teams want to win. And with the position both teams are in, these points are going to be pretty big.”
With DC United holding a 1-4-1 record and the Union sitting at 2-2-2, both clubs enter Sunday with a much-needed win on their mind. The contest is so vital to the Union’s Eastern Conference success, that both Union players and coaches want to avoid an emotional foul-fest on the road.
“It’s definitely tough,” Williams said on suppressing the high emotion. “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 effect 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. So anything you do you’re going to be held responsible for in the long run. You have to keep your cool and do what you need to do.”