It’s not been the ideal start for Philadelphia in the 2019 MLS season. A loss at home to start the season, followed by a difficult match up at Kansas City, lead to an 0-2 record.
The Union came into their match at Sporting Kansas City with the mind-set of erasing the bad taste left from a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC in the home opener. It didn’t happen.
Coach Jim Curtin made only one change to his starting lineup after last week’s debacle. Veteran defensive midfielder, Warren Creavalle replaced the offensive minded, Ilsinho. Fans couldn’t have been thrilled with Creavalle starting, but after the defensive breakdowns in their first game, they couldn’t make a serious argument against it either. Mark McKenzie was left out of the game-day 18 with a concussion. Jack Elliot continued to start for him at center back. Sporting KC coach, Peter Vermes, made a surprising decision. Rather than starting veteran midfielder Kelyn Rowe for the suspended Roger Espinoza, he went with 16-year-old, Gianluca Busio for his first start in MLS.
The first half was a tightly-contested one. Neither squad really stood out on either end. Possession at the half was 54/46 in favor of Sporting, and shots were about even. Cory Burke was quite active in the early part of the match but kept drifting towards the center of the formation where Fabián should have been receiving the ball. This happened 2-3 times and was kind of a head-scratcher.
For the first 30 minutes or so, the Union showed much better ball movement than they displayed in the opener. The turning point of the first half came when Auston Trusty gambled to cut off a pass down the right side, had to play catch-up, and eventually delivered a foul in the box. This lead to Illie Sanchez attempting and converting a penalty for a 1-0 Sporting lead. Goalkeeper Andre Blake, guessed right, but Illie put too much pace on the shot.
The Union were starting to put some pressure on the Kansas City defense when left back, Seth Sinovic deflected a ball with his hand over his head, resulting in a penalty in the box. Marco Fabián, who converted his first MLS penalty last week, could not come through this time. He put decent pace on the shot, but goalkeeper, Tim Melia, made a solid save diving to his right.
The major glaring issue I noticed in the first half was Sporting forward, Gerso Fernandes, having his way with the right side of the Union defense time and time again. I’m not sure why there wasn’t an adjustment to deny him the ball earlier. Vermes switched Gerso to the other side in the second half so it’s not clear if Curtin made any alterations for him specifically.
Shots on goal were hard to come by in the second half as for both clubs. The turning point came in the 58th minute. Fabián simply tapped the ball away from the feet of midfielder Johnny Russell, but in his attempt to avoid Russell on his next step, came down on him with his cleats. Although unintentional, referee Chris Penso was left with no choice but to give at least a yellow. He went straight red but a yellow would have had the same result, since Fabián was on one since mid-first half.
Not only were the Union down 1-0 on the road in a tough road environment, they were also down to 10 men for the next 30 minutes.
Had the Union remained at full strength, I believe Ilsinho would have been subbed in for Creavalle around the 60 minute mark. Those plans had to be put on hold since a more conservative approach was in order. The Union still had a chance to bring things even, but could not capitalize. Fafa Picault, who was probably the most active, effective player on the Union offense today, delivered a quality ball to Burke, but any scoring chance was thwarted by MLS all-star defender Matt Besler.
Any chance of the Union coming away with a point came to an end in the 80th minute. Gerso struck a mildly-paced cross into the box from the right side and the ball was kicked in the Union net by Jack Elliot. On replay he was back in enough time to make a routine clearance. Soon after, Derrick Jones, Ilsinho and Sergio Santos were subbed on. None of them were able to generate a shot attempt.
Next Sunday the Union will be at Mercedez Benz Stadium to take on Atlanta United FC. They now face the prospect of beginning the 2019 season, 0-3.
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Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports