There wasn’t much of a vibe when I arrived at Talen Energy Stadium today. It was raining, with no break in the weather in the forecast until later tonight. It was quiet and the sentiment from many supporters was hoping the Union made it through today with no injuries and try to squeak out a draw if possible. The reason for this was the U.S. Open Cup Final looming in Houston Wednesday night. Two parts were significant to this equation. Sporting Kansas City is one of the best clubs in all of MLS, starting most of their regulars, and the Union would be sending out a lineup full of bench players and some that hadn’t seen league action at all in 2018. Little did we know, the Philadelphia Union would go out and shutout Sporting KC.
The only usual starters in the lineup today were center back Auston Trusty and midfielder Borek Dockal. Making their first starts of the season were goalkeeper John McCarthy, striker Jay Simpson, and right back Olivier Mbazio. McCarthy was a last-minute substitute for Andre Blake, who came down with a stomach bug just this morning. Olivier would be making the first start of his MLS career, and reinforces the fact we won’t be seeing Matt Real in the 18 anytime soon. Filling out the back line were part-time starter Fabinho and early season starter Mark McKenzie. The steady Warren Creavalle and the improving Derrick Jones completed the midfield, with Fabian Herbers and David Accam helping out Simpson up top.
Opportunities were aplenty for both clubs in the first half. Jay Simpson had a wide open shot on goal in the 3rd minute but shot it wide left. In the 8th minute Accam made a great play, juking out two KC defenders, only to shoot the ball high and wide right. Soon after, Accam set Simpson up beautifully right in front of goal, but KC keeper, Tim Melia, came out and met Simpson’s shot head on. As many chances as the Union were missing, Sporting KC had no problem matching them. Seth Sinovic found himself alone in the left side of the box, only to float a pass to no one, rather than attempting a shot himself. The worst miss of the half came from Gerso Fernandez. In the 28th minute he put a move on McCarthy, faking him out and leaving much of the net open. His shot sailed to the right of goal from only a few yards away. At that point, it looked like Kansas City was starting to wonder if this wasn’t their day. The Union had their best scoring opportunity of the half in the 35th minute, when Fabian Herbers sent a blast off the top bar and Simpson was unable to nail home the rebound. It looked not to be Simpson’s day.
The moment of the half occurred only a few minutes prior to halftime. Mbazio looked to be close to creating a scoring chance for the Union off a nice back heel pass from Simpson, when KC defender, Matt Besler shouldered him to the turf. It was a clear penalty, and not only did referee, Matt Geiger, not call one, the VAR official didn’t see it fit for review either. Tempers were flaring soon after when Geiger blew a quick whistle after a Union foul, and many players had to be separated. Doubt was starting to settle into the Chester crowd as fans thought they were getting screwed by Geiger again. Not to be lost in the 1st half and throughout the match was John McCarthy’s stellar performance. He made a number of diving saves and all the steady ones. If I recall correctly, he booted only one ball out-of-bounds the entire match.
Things would finally change in the 71st minute. Alejandro Bedoya, who subbed in for Borek Dockal, headed a beautiful pass to Simpson who volleyed in his first goal in almost two seasons. It was surreal. Were the Union going to shut-out the Sounders in Seattle and then shut-out Sporting KC a few days later? Not possible, right? Well, only seventeen minutes later, Fafa Picault, who subbed on for Fabian Herbers, caught the KC back line sleeping and found Bedoya streaking towards goal. Bedoya turned and found Simpson who sent in his second goal of the match, sealing the victory and three points for the home team.
After the match, no one was happier for Simpson than coach Jim Curtin, saying that the boos targeted at Simpson in the past two seasons were not warranted and that he was a victim of circumstance, citing his injuries and C.J. Sapong’s impressive 2017 campaign. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’m all for more games like this from the English striker. Today’s win was a total team effort. Mbazio impressed, Accam looked more comfortable than in past games, and Trusty was an absolute beast again. I don’t know a center back in MLS playing better than him right now. On to Houston!
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Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports