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Preview and tactics: Union vs Sporting KC

What: US Open Cup semifinal

Who: Philadelphia Union vs Sporting Kansas City

When: Wednesday, July 11. 7:30pm EST

Why: A Cup. A very big Cup.

Asked about tomorrow night’s match against the Philadelphia Union, Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin said, “I’m religious, and revenge – that’s against religion, but [that loss] definitely gives us some motivation to go there and get the most goals possible, to make them believe and make them know that it was an error, what happened last time.”

Actually, it would have to be at least four errors. And one of them was clearly Collin’s.

The Union smacked Sporting KC so early in their last meeting that using the 4-0 thrashing as a point of comparison is both unfair and unwise. One positive, however, is that expecting a repeat of that performance from the Union is not nearly as crazy as expecting KC to play as poorly as they did in the first half of that match.

Score early

Last time these teams played, Jack McInerney lit up the River End in the first minute of play; it was the first time the Union had scored in the first thirty minutes of a match all season. And the fallout was incredible. Sporting Kansas City thrives on the break. Their strikers – Kei Kamara excluded, perhaps – don’t want to take people on, they want to run onto Graham Zusi’s through balls. They want to follow up plays in the box and blast home a rebound.

Few teams truly attack in waves, but Sporting KC is one of them. They don’t mind giving their strikers one-on-one aerial challenges to win because they follow up plays so well. If Bunbury can knock a ball down anywhere in the box, you’d better have money to lose if you aren’t betting on Kamara or Sapong to be the first one there. But for a team to press forward, they need holes to develop in the opposing defense or they need space on the wings.

When they go behind early, KC struggles to find gaps in the midfield because the opposition sits back and absorbs attacks. But while this defensive tactic sounds smart in the locker room, it must be paired with pressure on the wings or an early lead will disappear quicker than Antoine Hoppenot from Aurelien Collin’s field of vision.

Watching the wings

Old School star Luke Wilson Chance Myers has four assists from the right back position. When teams double up on Kei Kamara, they leave Myers free to loft crosses into the box. He does it often and, lately, he has done it well. Leaving the KC wing backs open is a recipe for disaster, but most teams will concede space on the edges to protect against Graham Zusi’s balls through the middle. Fair enough, but the Union have the personnel to shut down both the KC strikers and the backs behind them.

If you haven’t noticed, Gabriel Farfan does not mind getting a little rough. Sure, it’s a little more amusing now that he has the mane of a prideful lion, but it’s always been a feature of his game that made his transition to the back line easier. And Garfan can afford to play tight even on players as tricky as Kamara because Valdes and Okugo cover so much ground in support. With the backs pressuring the strikers, Michael Lahoud was able to zip side to side and, accompanied by Lionard Pajoy’s reliable defensive effort, keep the service from the outside under pressure.

Marked Marfan

He muted the Home Depot Center in injury time. He dismantled the Toronto defense so easily it made IKEA furniture seem like quantum physics. He just made the All-Star team (fingers crossed). So if you live in Kansas City and your red pen is missing, Peter Vermes is probably using it to circle the Union’s offensive midfielder as many times as he can.

Sporting Kansas City believes they can control the middle of the pitch every game. Graham Zusi doesn’t need to be very high to create offensively and his backup dancers are mobile and effective. Whether it’s Roger Espinoza and Julio Caesar or Paulo Nagamura, the Kansas City defensive midfield duo finds shape and pressures the ball carrier quickly once you enter their half. The Union can try to go over the top again, but they might be better served using Michael Farfan to move the KC defense around and pull them higher up the pitch.

Peter Vermes would be a fool to play such a high line again, so expect Collin and Matt Besler to respect Jack McInerney’s runs a bit more tonight. Unless the midfield also drops back (unlikely), there will be space between the backs and midfield for Michael Farfan to move in and exploit. While Farfan has excelled when given freedom and space, he has yet to prove he can consistently create it for himself. That is, however, what he must do, moving early and often to open lanes for himself and others.

Kansas City hasn’t picked up any hardware since 2004. They want the US Open Cup badly. The Union are looking to salvage a rough season with a gritty cup run. Only one of these teams can make the final. After Philadelphia  unloaded on Toronto, Gabriel Gomez talked about showing people that they were in the Union’s house. Time to let the top team in the Eastern Conference know what that means. And that 4-0 was no fluke.

Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Williams, Okugo, Valdes, Garfan
  • MID: Gomez, Carroll, Marfan
  • FWD: Pajoy, McInerney, Adu

Sporting Kansas City

  • GK: Nielsen
  • DEF: Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic
  • MID: Nagamura, Espinoza, Zusi
  • FWD: Sapong, Bunbury, Kamara

Tickets are still available for tonight’s game here. If you cannot make it to the game, the match will be streamed live on the Union website.

8 Comments

  1. JediLos117 says:

    I’m back!!! Mwahaha!!! C’mon the U!!!

  2. WilkersonMcLaser says:

    PSP — you guys know if any bars are showing the game?

    • Ed Farnsworth says:

      I haven’t heard of any (not that that means anything), but I imagine it would be easy enough for a bar with wifi to hook a laptop into a flat screen and show the Union’s stream.

  3. the kid union says:

    sigh………….

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