Philadelphia Union Battle Sporting KC and The Blue Hell this Sunday

Match Preview:

The road bug-a-boos for the Union hopefully ended in 2018, with the boys in blue tallying a record of 6-8-3 away from Talen Energy Stadium.  Those 21 road points were good enough for third best in the Eastern Conference, behind only Atlanta United FC (32) and the New York Red Bulls (28).  Traveling to Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, as the Union will do this Sunday, is usually a tough task for any club in Major League Soccer.  However, the Union have been historically successful out there, with a record of 3-2-3.

Just a quick recap of last week’s opener vs. Toronto FC.  The Union had their chances, couldn’t capitalize, and the defense allowed Michael Bradley two lay-up goals, eventually resulting in a disappointing 3-1 loss at home.  The fact that Toronto had played earlier in the week and were not at full strength, made it even more disheartening .  Also, referee, Nima Saghafi, allowed Bradley to dictate the course and flow of the match, making it near impossible to catch a break.

Similar to Toronto last week, Sporting KC will be playing in a CONCACAF Champions league match in Panama, only a few days before they face the Union.  Jim Curtin can only hope that 7-hour flight and the grind of the CCL will leave the home team worn down on Sunday.  Sporting KC will also be without one of its star midfielders.  Roger Espinoza will have to sit this one out after receiving two yellow cards last against LAFC last week.  Luckily for them, USMNT midfielder, Kelyn Rowe, has joined Sporting after a stellar seven year stint with the New England Revolution. Although Rowe’s level of talent is more than sufficient, it’s yet known if he’s developed a reasonable level of chemistry with his new club.  On the injury front for Sporting, starting center back, Andreu Fontas, left last week’s contest with a hip-pointer and his status for this Sunday is unclear.  He did not make the trip to Panama. 

The Union have lots of work to do, and I believe will need to make a few changes so they don’t have a repeat of last week.  USMNT U-20 stud, Mark McKenzie, will be back in the starting lineup, replacing Jack Elliot at center back.  Right back will be an interesting call and might have an effect on the choices in the midfield.  Although Ray Gaddis didn’t have a poor performance last week, the up-and –coming Olivier Mbaizo offers more offensive building out of the back, and had an outstanding match against Sporting last season.  If Curtin goes with Mbaizo, I’d expect him to shore up the midfield defensively with Warren Creavalle or Derrick Jones.  It should be Jones, but that is as much of a mystery to me as it is to you.  He wasn’t even on the bench last week, but could easily start on Sunday.  Either Creavalle or Jones starting will assuredly move Ilsinho to the bench for this one.  I’d continue to go with Burke and Fafa at forward.  Santos looked a bit anxious out there last week and another few stints off the bench would suit him best for now.  

And if you haven’t heard, the Union signed midfielder, Jamiro Monteiro, on loan from FC Metz in France’s second division.  Tim Lovenguth breaks down the signing and what this move means to the Union:

This is a close one to call.  Although Peter Vermes always has his club well-prepared and Sporting has home field advantage, they will be faced with a rough week of travel, as well as replacing a few key pieces in their lineup.  The Union will have to come out of this with at least a draw.  If they were to lose this week, it’s possible they could start the season 0-3, with a trip to Atlanta looming. 

Prediction

Union: 2  Sporting KC: 2

Union Man of the Match

Marco Fabián

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