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Match report: Union 0-2 Kansas City

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Tempers flared Wednesday night as Sporting Kansas City secured a berth in the US Open Cup final with a hotly contested 2-0 road win over the Union.

After a first half lacking in quality from both combatants, Kansas City found the breathrough in the 65th minute when Jacob Peterson buried a near post header past a hesitant Zac MacMath.

With both sides running on fumes in the final quarter of an hour, chances came on either end as the match grew increasingly stretched. The Union threw all outfield bodies forward in the dying moments of the match, and when MacMath misplaced his header when he looked to push his team forward, Graham Zusi rolled in a second for Kansas City from his side of the center stripe.

First Half

Despite finding themselves in the densest portion of their 2012 schedule, John Hackworth made only one change from the side that ran over Toronto FC on the weekend. Michael Lahoud returned to the midfield, with Gabriel Gomez rested. While the Union opened comfortably, knocking the ball around in their own half, they found themselves up against a more compact, organized side than the one they beat 4-0 less than a month ago.

Sitting deeper than expected, Sporting Kansas City focused on defending the passing lanes and keeping the Union defense from having easy outlets into the midfield. Early turnovers from Brian Carroll and Lahoud had Kansas City on the front foot and the Union back four were forced to abandon their preferred short passing game in favor of lofting long balls up field. Physically, the attacking trio of McInerney, Pajoy and Adu was no match for Sporting center backs Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler, and the Union defense quickly saw their long balls returning at them.

Defensively, the Union remained organized. When Carlos Valdes conceded a foul near the corner flag 11 minutes into the match, Amobi Okugo was there to assist his partner, heading clear from the set piece.

Sporting Kansas City looked to slow the match at every turn and the pace ground to a slow trot as their possession statistics improved. In the middle of the pitch, Sporting was benefiting from the quick movement of Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi, while their Union counterparts were struggling to find their teammates. Brian Carroll looked especially out of sorts as he launched a handful of casual long balls, none of which found their intended target.

Still, it was the Union who had the first real chance on goal in the 26th minute. The move started with Freddy Adu, who managed to squeeze his way through three defenders before cutting back for Pajoy from the endline. A fraction slow to react, Pajoy tried to maneuver into a shooting lane but was crowded out.

In a half that featured sixteen fouls between the teams, the first flashpoint arose on 29 minutes when Gabe Farfan spun on the ball, leaving Zusi on the turf holding his face. As Farfan moved the ball upfield, an incensed Kamara came crashing into Farfan off the ball, with the Union defender throwing out a boot in the exchange. Farfan ultimately went into referee Jorge Gonzalez’s notebook as the two sides gathered angrily.

When the match resumed, it fell back into the doldrums of sloppy passing, overly physical play and aimless long balls, with neither side able to stamp their authority on the proceedings.

But, despite playing below their par, the Union would still have the best chances as the half wore to a close. Both times it was Michael Farfan picking out Pajoy racing in between the two center backs. Unfortunately for Union supporters, on both occasions, the Colombian managed to leave the ball behind, failing to convert on each of his driving runs into the box.

Second Half

With both sides in need of a lift in the second half, Sporting Kansas City was first out of the gates, controlling play and probing into the Union area. They would find no early scoring chances though, as Okugo did well to dispossess Bunbury in a dangerous position. Up top, McInerney and Pajoy tracked back hard to apply defensive pressure.

The match boiled over for a second time in the 53rd minute after the Union felt they were on the wrong end of two consecutive non-calls from referee Jorge Gonzalez. When Michael Farfan went hard into a challenge in midfield, he joined his brother with a yellow card. Paulo Nagamura joined him following the ensuing fracas.

As tensions built, Kansas City continued to press forward and began to find space in front of Zac MacMath’s goal. In the 59th minute, Bunbury cut through the center of the pitch to play in Kamara, whose shot was well wide of the mark.

Minutes later, Kamara turned provider, nodding a header across the box to Bunbury, but Bunbury failed to get power behind the shot, allowing MacMath to claim comfortably.

Firmly on the back foot, the Union conceded free kicks at an alarming clip. In the 62nd minute, Sheanon Williams became the third Union player to go in the book for a foul on Roger Espinoza.

Against a team of Kansas City’s stature, conceding free kicks is always a dangerous game and in the 65th minute, the Union were punished for one of their nineteen fouls on the night. Zusi stepped up to stand over the ball and picked out Jacob Peterson at the near post. His soft header seemed to confuse a slow reacting MacMath, allowing the ball to fly past him to give Sporting the vital breakthrough.

Kansas City nearly put the match to bed moments later when Kamara slipped in second half substitute C.J. Sapong. After beating MacMath with a low drive, Sapong watched his shot rebound off the goal post.

With the Union in need of a leveler, the match became stretched, and substitute Antoine Hoppenot nearly found the equalizer on 69 minutes. Receiving the ball at the top of the box, Adu turned and slid the ball into Hoppenot’s path. Jimmy Nielsen reacted quickly, however, deflecting the effort into the air, where his defense managed to clear their lines.

It was breathless end-to-end stuff, and MacMath was next called upon to shepherd Zusi away at a tight angle.

On the other end, Gabriel Gomez looked to have played Hoppenot in on Nielsen’s goal only to have Aurelien Collin rugby-tackle the speedy forward, earning him the last of six cautions on the night.

With time ticking away, the Union threw all of their numbers forward. Adu nearly found a desperate, last second equalizer. But after showing good skill to bring down Amobi Okugo’s cross, he could not keep his effort down, firing his shot over the bar.

On the stroke of full time, Zusi finally grabbed an insurance goal for Kansas City. Playing sweeper far up the pitch, MacMath was forced to head the ball away from the onrushing Sapong. He could only play it as far as Zusi, who struck the ball into the empty net from just inside his own half.

The Union’s next match is against the expansion Montreal Impact  this Saturday at 7 pm.

Philadelphia Union

Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan; Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud (Gabriel Gomez ’66), Michael Farfan; Freddy Adu, Jack McInerney, Lionard Pajoy (Antoine Hoppenot ’64)

Substitutes: Chris Konopka, Keon Daniel, Chris Albright, Josue Martinez, Raymon Gaddis

Sporting Kansas City

Jimmey Nielsen; Chance Myers, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic; Paulo Nagamura, Graham Zusi, Roger Espinoza; Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong ’64), Kei Kamara, Jacob Peterson

Substitutes: Soony Saad, Michael Thomas, Julio Cesar, Eric Kronberg, Peterson Joseph, Michael Harrington

Scoring Summary

65 – SKC: Peterson (Zusi)

90 – SKC: Zusi

Discipline Summary

30 – PHI: G. Farfan (caution)

52 – PHI: M. Farfan (caution)

52 – SKC: Nagamura (caution)

57 – PHI: Lahoud (caution)

62 – PHI: Williams (caution)

77 – SKC: Collin (caution)


Jorge Gonzalez


  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    I’m disappointed sure, but not devastated. I’ll let everyone else fume about the refs and KCs tactics, but really my bottom line I took from this game is that this is a young, inexperienced team that needs to work on figuring out its plan B.
    When Jack Mac isn’t opening up the field with his runs, and when Marfan can’t seem to find space, we need a backup plan. It felt like we didn’t have that. We resorted to long balls, and once space started to open up our timing was off. It seemed like we were offsides more than the last 5 games combined.

    • Agreed. They just didn’t seem prepared for the packed in defense they faced last night. This will certainly happen again. Hackworth needs to work on a strategy for that.

    • I agree, the guys just looked inexperienced and frustrated at times. Over all I think they did a good job and can hold heads up. The ref did leave somethings to be desired, but that wasn’t what did them in. They’ll move on from this and learn and that’s the second best thing that can happen( the first would have been winning 🙂

  2. KC definitely packed it in at the back this time. Even Kamara and Peterson were tracking back the entire game. You have to assume the Union is going to see this sort of set up by other teams in the future. KC’s flopping was atrocious. In the end, they had a plan, and it worked (with Zac’s help).

    KC’s goal was, without question, an absolute crap-the-bed effort by MacMath. There is NO WAY a professional GK should let that in. He was standing on the fricking near post, where the looping header went in. Awful. Absolutely awful.

    Tough loss to a good team. Those KC players a huge in size compared to our boys, but I thought they held up well.

    Do we know if Espinoza was evaluated for a potential stroke? The way he was falling down all over the pitch, I was worried for him.

  3. They looked tired. Roster changes should have been made in the Toronto match, and were not. SKC were beating them to nearly all the 50:50 balls and to a good portion of the soft passes. Lesson: 3 matches in 8 days is too much work. Learn it. Don’t repeat this mistake.

  4. I will have to agree with James. as much as i want to bash the horrible officiating, which it was, and how bad the other team played dirty and resorted to defending their goal with diving. I have to say the union players are a young group and with that comes times like this where they get frustrated with lack of calls and opposite team tactics. They are showing lots of improvement and unity. It will take time and more game play. Im glad this team did as well as we did in the Open Cup. We made it to the semi finals and thats great! Way to go UNION!!

  5. i was at the game ,and it was all macmaths fault he made 2 stupid mistackes

    • JediLos117 says:

      Yes we can point fingers at Zac and rightly so but I think this will be a minor blip in his development. Zac is raw but has huge potential…also note that the Union did fail to score or even from my point of view look capable of scoring last night. IMO the officiating wasnt that bad or one sided at all last night.

    • Sean Doyle says:

      Whoa Tiger, it’s completely unfair to pin this all on Zac MacMath. Yes, he should have saved Peterson’s effort on goal, but this was a team loss, end of story. Whether it was poor passing, poor finishing, the failure to create opportunities or tired legs, this match showed us that our Philadelphia Union still has much work to do in order to keep up with the big boys of MLS.

    • Section 116 says:

      There’s no way the second one was his fault. It’s a risk that you run playing for the goal in desperation.

      First onie — yeah, his fault. And he clearly knew it. If he learns from it, it’s fine.

  6. No idea why Adu was on the field for 90 minutes. Has he ever had a good game against a defense that wasn’t horrible?

    • Agree. Also Marfar should have been subbed and Pajoy should have come out at the half. I also could not believe the continuous long balls towards the end towards bigger defenders. Don’t think we won one head all. Awful frustrating game.

    • He was your most dangerous player, by far. Maybe you somehow missed all the chances he created. More likely you didn’t recognize them.

      • surely you’re joking. he consistently held the ball too long and lost it. created perhaps half a chance to pajoy.

      • his corners didn’t create shit, had two players in on goal towards the end of the game and skied one over. the first half he was practically invisible.

  7. I don’t know where else to look aside from McMath’s blunder. It was softer than soft in a game that was most likely the biggest of his young career. The second goal was empty net and shouldn’t be held against him, but this should have been a 0-0 game through the full time.

    I thought the defense was flawless until the softie went in. After that, they cracked us a few times because we were taking more gambles.

    In a cup game like that, a mistake like that will kill you. A team loss is a 4-0 spanking where you never had a chance. This game was extremely close until the goal was conceded. McMath has to become stronger mentally.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Still, before and even after our offense was invisible. 4 shots, 1 on goal? That is Nowak era right there. Of course it was a horrible goal to let in but it was a pretty horrible preformance our offense leading up to that point overall too.

  8. The ref was Chico Grajeda, not Jorge Gonzalez.

  9. These are the kinds of games where having a physical presence like Soumare could valuable; on offense (set plays) as much as defense.

    I was also surprised to see the full lineup play the whole game on Sunday. I do think that didn’t help last night.

    Who knows what happens on Saturday.

  10. Even though the Union lost, I enjoyed the game. Its rare to say that one enjoyed a loss but the Union gave it there all. KC is simply a better team.
    The game itself reminded me of an EPL match with its speed, one touch passing, and ball movement.
    However, the loss can be directly attributed to MacMath. No doubt. Clear evidence that he needed a year or two more as a back up. The fist goal was a soft one. If it wasn’t for the first goal than the Union would not have been chasing the game and the second goal would may not have happened. Poor preseason personnel movements strike again.
    Fredy Adu gets pushed off the ball too easily. If we are to keep him for next season his pay has to be cut in half. He is simply not worth what he is being payed.
    Pajoy, time to score! His fist touch is daft. He is just a second always too slow.
    Lahoud adds nothing.
    However, in the end, a good game. The Union should keep the young guys playing. They are developing well. A DP striker would be great. More depth in defense is absolutely necessary. Another defendant should be acquired.
    KC won because they were a better team. They beat the Union at home, and out played them all the way through the game. However, the Union held there own, and generated some chances. This in itself is great, and there is hope for the future.

  11. Again the biased opinions against those we hate and protecting those we love. No offense but Mack did less than adu all night. He was absolutely ineffective. Not that adu was great far from it but mack was worse Pajoy missed two golden not silver golden opportunities to put it on frame at least. The word is out on us and we don’t have a plan B. lahoud adds something and that was some effort which was lacking in almost every other player. We were as flat as a calm sea until KC scored. The goal is on Macmath no doubt. though the three others that kc should have scored we’re not. The second goal was irrelevant.
    We were the most tired team. Too many games in too few days.
    Absolutely uninspired play. We need to rest regroup and come out to win.
    Okugo was great again. Actually he and valdes were the only players I thought were effective. Hoppenot and Mack can’t play together.
    Let’s regroup U

  12. James Korman says:

    We really showed our youth in that loss. We are one of the youngest teams in MLS- and we have a new coach and a new system. Clearly we were making strides but KC smothered (and battered) us and we didn’t adjust or respond in an effective way. Not a shocker. And Zach? Looked to me like he just got caught napping. He’s saved our ass repeatedly over the last bunch of games so I’m going to chalk his mistake up to: Youth! Take a deep breath and move forward.

    I agree with everyone who who states above that we need a plan B. But Hell, we really only developed our plan A over the last three weeks. No shame in that.

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