Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview: How will the Union handle SKC as Open Cup Final looms?

After a horrid loss to Montreal at home last Saturday, the Union redeemed themselves in Seattle Wednesday night. The Union’s 1-0 win against a Seattle team that was on a nine game winning streak is very impressive. Now, they play another important match against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday as the Open Cup Final looms the following Wednesday. Our Philly Sports Network Union Crew Preview how the Union will handle squad rotation vs SKC.

Fafa Picault (Left) and Haris Medunjanin (Right) celebrate Fafa’s late stoppage time winning goal in Seattle.

Jeff Green:

Just when you think you have things figured out.  If someone asked you a week ago to put money down on the Union getting blown out at home by the Montreal Impact, and then stealing a road match at the Seattle Sounders mid-week, there’s no way you would have taken that action.  No way.  Well, that’s where we are.  Only one point behind the Columbus Crew for 4th place, four points ahead of Montreal and now eight in front of D.C. United, the boys in blue find themselves in a great position.  If only they weren’t still in the middle of the most crowded two week span in their history.  They gave everything they had Wednesday night in Seattle (at least after the first ten deplorably defensive minutes), are riddled with injuries, add a suspension for good measure, and the Union have lots of tough decisions ahead.

The next chapter in this 2018 play-off trek takes place Sunday in Chester against Sporting Kansas City. They currently sit in first place in the Western Conference due to their +20 goal differential. Led by perennial coach of the year candidate, Peter Vermes, who is one of the best at maximizing his club’s talent, Sporting KC might be the most balanced squad in all of MLS. Their offense is dictated by three men up top. Forwards Johnny Russell (8 goals/ 8 assists), Diego Rubio (8 goals/ 6 assists), and Daniel Salloi (7 goals/ 7 assists) handle the scoring load but are also excellent at ball distribution. Add to this scoring punch a defensive side that sports USMNT regulars Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, as well as last year’s MLS Defender of the Year, Ike Opara. No major injuries and no suspensions means you can expect all Sporting KC regulars in the starting lineup at 1PM Sunday.  Only seven points separate all clubs currently over the red line in the West, so they will no doubt be going for three points.

The U.S. Open Cup final is looming in Houston against the Dynamo next Wednesday. That match, along with their visit to Columbus next Saturday, are the two most important matches remaining for the Union this season. That presents the question: What do you do this Sunday? Jim Curtin’s coaching chops will be put to the ultimate test. His club will most likely be without the injured Ray Gaddis, as well as the suspended Jack Elliot on the back line. Look for them to be replaced by Fabinho and Mark McKenzie respectively. Ilsinho will also be held out to fully heal for the Dynamo match. The club being short on the defensive side will most likely mean seeing Richie Marquez and either Matt Real in the 18, or if Real is still recovering from his knee injury, Olivier Mbaizo.

MLS assist-leader, Borek Dockal is scheduled to return after taking the Seattle match off, but don’t expect him to play more than a half Sunday.  I’d also expect Haris Medunjanin to be benched, but do expect a good amount of playing time for either Fabian Herbers or David Accam out on the wing.  It’s possible even John McCarthy gets the start for Andre Blake. The changes the Union will be forced to make, due to injuries, a suspension, and the schedule, combined with Sporting Kansas City being in great form with their starting core in place, makes a draw for the Union the best-case scenario.

Prediction: Union: 1 Sporting KC: 2

Union Man of the Match: Derrick Jones

Matt McClain:

Well the Union stunned us once again this past Wednesday. And I am so glad I stayed up for the match-up, even though Thursday was a struggle all day long at work. But Fafa Picault and his magic moment in stoppage time sealed a huge victory against a streaking Seattle Sounders team. Like Jeff said, nobody expected that, especially after the 4-1 embarrassment at home against Montreal.

However, that’s kind of been the story of this 2018 Philadelphia Union team. They ARE resilient in the face of adversity. Players have substituted me first attitudes for a collective mindset, surrounded by the idea of ‘we.’ That is a by-product of Jim Curtin’s coaching philosophy. Everybody contributes. Everybody helps each other. That collective work ethic was on full display Wednesday night. Jay Simpson appeared late in the match and pressed effectively which helped created the chance for Picault to change the game. Simpson, who never plays, came on and simply did his job and fulfilled a role that was needed. It’s the small efforts like that which continue to propel the Union forward this year.

They have a new franchise record for road wins and wins overall. I think it’s finally time for those cynical “Doomsday DOOPers” to accept the fact that this team is actually good. It’s also finally time for some Union writers of the past who continually smeared the organization with negative slants to get with the program. This team is good and they’ve proved it time and time again this season.

Sunday afternoon is yet another opportunity for Philadelphia to solidify their winning ways. A home match against Sporting Kansas City starting at 1PM will serve as a springboard for the club as the US Open Cup final looms large midweek. Expect a lot of rotation in the starting XI to keep players fresh for that Wednesday Cup clash. Predicting the XI is a difficult task but. Obviously, Mark McKenzie will receive another opportunity at some playing time with the suspension to Jack Elliot. Maybe Derrick Jones earns another start while David Accam could spell Picault or Sapong on the wing. And perhaps we may even see the newly acquired German striker Kacper Przybylko up top tomorrow. The 6’4” international has impressive strength much like Cory Burke and it would be a great opportunity for Curtin to showcase his new found depth in the attack.

Sporting KC is currently the king of the Western Conference with an impressive 15 wins and 51 points. A draw is what Philadelphia will aim for. But perhaps another stunning performance is in the works against a team that is by all accounts better than themselves. KC has racked up 12 points in their last five matches, losing just once. However, in their last two trips to Chester, they’ve lost. Perhaps they’ll lose again? I wouldn’t bank on it though.

Prediction: Union 2 – Kansas City 3

Union Man of the Match: Kacper Przybylko (bold I know but if he starts he’ll snag a goal)

Tim Lovenguth:

There’s electricity in the air, and it’s all going down Sunday at 1 PM! Oh, you think I’m talking about the return of Carson Wentz? Well, there is a huge buzz for his return, but I’m talking about the Union and their match against Sporting Kansas City that will be taking place at the same time as the Eagles’ franchise QB takes the field in South Philly.

The Union take on Sporting Kansas City in a match that is important, but not for the reasons you may think. While taking points from this match would be great, this match is one where little-to-no starters should see the field. Those starters will be resting for Wednesday’s US Open Cup Final, where the Union will travel to Houston Dynamo for a chance to win a championship. This presents a great opportunity for the Union’s bench, and fringe players to step up and fight for the badge in a home match.

I see the Union rotating heavily to preserve their normal starters for Wednesday. Here’s who I think will make up the Union 18:

Starting 11: McCarthy; Fabinho, Marquez, McKenzie, Mbaizo; Creavalle, Jones; Accam, Fontana, Herbers; Simpson.

Bench: McGuire; Yaro, Trusty; Najem, Picault, Epps; Przyblko.

This 18 has two starters on it, and they are only to be used as subs in a desperate situation. This Union side will be looking to prove why they are on this squad. While they will go up against the full strength team at the top of the Western Conference, they will give everything they have to protect their home field.

The Union are sit just one point behind Columbus for fourth place in MLS’ Eastern Conference, if this side can grind out a result against SKC, and Columbus flounders against Colorado, the Union could stay in the hunt for hosting a wildcard playoff game. A week from today, after potentially winning their first trophy in club history this Union team will travel to play Columbus which could decide who finishes fourth or fifth!

First thing’s first, the Union have to play Kansas City. I think that this Union groups resolve, their never-say-die, attitude will propel them to a draw against the West leaders.

Prediction: Union 1 – Kansas City 1

Union Man of the Match: Derrick Jones

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Tim Lovenguth

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Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports