Perhaps it was cosmic payback when D.C. United saw a seemingly certain victory over Philadelphia turn into a tie last month at RFK Stadium.
Referee Mark Geiger's decision to make Dwayne De Rosario retake a potential game-winning penalty kick -- De Rosario clanged the second attempt off the cross bar -- was cruel. But then so was D.C. United's 78th-minute goal in a 1-0 victory over the Union at PPL Park earlier in the season, a game that just as easily could've been a D.C. United loss.
It makes the outcome far from predictable when United (13-10-5) and the Union (7-13-6) meet on Thursday for the third and final time this season and second time in Philadelphia.
Currently in possession of the fifth and final Eastern Conference postseason berth, United is desperate to take another step toward ending a four-year postseason drought. The ninth-place Union, desperate simply to stave off mathematical elimination from playoff contention, are a team United knows they should beat.
|United at Philadelphia Union|
|When » Thursday, 8 p.m.|
|Where » PPL Park, Chester, Pa.|
|TV » ESPN2|
"We already went to Philly, and we know how that went," United defender Dejan Jakovic said. "We got our [butts] kicked over there and ended up stealing a win from them so it's definitely going to be a big challenge for us."
United's victory over Philadelphia back in June was also its last on the road. United has lost six in a row away from home since -- a streak that stands in stark contrast to a franchise-record 14 matches without a defeat at RFK.
The mark was set last weekend thanks to late-game heroics from goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who made three saves in two minutes during a harrowing stretch to preserve a 2-1 win over New England. United was repeatedly caught in situations where despite a numbers advantage in the box, players were left unmarked for close-range shots.
"I don't know how [Hamid] made some of those saves," United defender Brandon McDonald said. "He's showing his national team quality."
Ball possession was also difficult to maintain without injured De Rosario, who was lost last week for the year with a left knee injury. Midfielder Branko Boskovic, making his 10th start, picked up an assist against the Revolution but wasn't happy about being substituted 10 minutes after halftime.
With United coach Ben Olsen preferring a defensive stance on the road, Boskovic was used as a substitute in United's last visit to PPL Park. He came off the bench to deliver the free kick that Chris Pontius scored for the game's only goal.
Boskovic also was red carded in the Philadelphia match at RFK for an incident with Union midfielder Roger Torres that took place during the chaotic moments after Geiger called for the penalty kick retake. But no residual effects are expected.
"To be honest, I think if you ask a handful of guys, they wouldn't even remember," McDonald said. "For us it's just about getting the result. This club has been out of the playoffs for too long now, and I think for us to come in and put our stamp on this game is something that we have to do."