- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sports rivalries usually take a long time to develop. D.C. United and Seattle Sounders FC wasted no time in creating a hot one.

United and the expansion Sounders meet Saturday at RFK Stadium for only the third time, but already a testiness exists between the clubs that normally takes years to foster.

“I don’t hesitate to say we have a rivalry with an expansion team,” United midfielder Ben Olsen said. “But let’s be honest: They are not your normal expansion team.”

The Sounders emerged this season as one of Major League Soccer’s most exciting clubs, drawing the biggest crowds in the league and wearing a swagger unlike any expansion team before them.

In a June game in Seattle, United rallied from a 3-1 deficit to earn a 3-3 tie.

The Sounders made a bigger statement last week by beating United 2-1 in the U.S. Open Cup championship game at RFK Stadium - a victory that followed a nasty spat over which club was better-suited to host the title match.

“They certainly had our number in the U.S. Open Cup final,” Olsen said. “It’s not something you forget real quick even though we like to say we do. I think it’s still pretty fresh in everybody’s mind.”

That certainly is the case with midfielder Clyde Simms.

“They stole a championship away from us at home,” he said. “We are competitors, and it’s hard to forget.”

Still, United has much more at stake in Saturday’s game than mere payback.

United is fighting to secure a playoff spot and desperately needs to earn three points at home against the Sounders. United also can claim the head-to-head tiebreaker should the clubs be tied in points at the end of the season.

Under the league’s new playoff format, the top two teams in each conference advance to the playoffs and the next four teams claim wild-card berths - regardless of conference.

United (8-5-12, 36 points) sits in the second wild-card spot ahead of Seattle (8-6-10, 34 points), but the Sounders have a game in hand.

“We understand the importance of getting a result regarding the standings and the tiebreaker, and I’m sure there’s a little edge about us for what happened the other day and rectifying that result,” United coach Tom Soehn said.

United got good and bad news entering the game.

The good news: Seattle will play without suspended star Freddie Ljungberg.

“He’s a big spark plug for them,” Soehn said. “They will definitely be different without him.”

The bad news: United must play without two key defenders, Dejan Jakovic and Marc Burch, against one of the most exciting offenses in the league.

The Sounders, meanwhile, get Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Tyrone Marshall, key central defenders who missed the U.S. Open Cup, back in the lineup.

Note: United acquired former Chivas USA defender Lawson Vaughn on Friday. Vaughn will serve as a replacement for defender Greg Janicki, who has been placed on the disabled list because of back spasms.

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