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Match report: Sporting KC 2-1 Philadelphia Union

All season the Philadelphia Union have sought a consistent creative presence. Sporting Kansas City have no such issue.

Behind two fine assists from Kei Kamara, KC clinched the Eastern Conference crown in front of their fans with a 2-1 victory over the Union at Livestrong Sporting Park.

Lahoud moves back

With Sheanon Williams and Gabriel Farfan nursing ankle injuries, Michael Lahoud drew short straw and stepped into the left back role for Philadelphia. Though Lahoud had issues with a second minute clearance, Kansas City chose to go after Ray Gaddis early on.

The Union appeared unprepared for Kansas City’s high pressure defense. In the third minute, Ray Gaddis didn’t step back to find a lane and Amobi Okugo tried to force a pass to him anyway. Seth Sinovic intercepted and Okugo was forced to bring him down. An early yellow card was not what the Union needed on the road, and as the game developed a rough edge, the mistake almost came back to cost the young center back the rest of his season.

Though Sporting KC was on the front foot for the first ten minutes, there was little to trouble Zac MacMath. A fifth minute Julio Cesar ¬†blast was well over and Kamara’s skillful chest control in the box came to nothing under the watchful eyes of Ray Gaddis.

The field is so, so big

A confused midfield has been a Philadelphia hallmark all season, and Peter Vermes’ team was clearly not blind to that fact. With the wing strikers dropping deeper to give outlets and the Union back four playing conservatively, Kansas City was able to move the ball across the field with long, accurate passes. This allowed them to bypass Brian Carroll’s watchful eye, or at the very least make him work to stay involved.

In the fourteenth minute, a long cross from Zusi found Sinovic on the left. Though Sapong was lurking, Okugo stepped in front to keep the scoreline even.

The Union midfield started out invisible and soon went off in search of a stronger term. Gabriel Gomez ran behind Jack McInerney while Michael Farfan and Carroll tried to provide shape in the middle. If the goal was to find space for Marfan, it was not met. If the goal was to let Gomez control the game, it was not met.

If the goal was to chase shadows, then goal met; shadows successfully chased.

 Jumpy Jack Flash

Jack McInerney was on a mission to top his five offsides violations from the weekend. His second came off a cheeky flick from Gabriel Gomez that nearly released the striker behind Matt Besler.

Three minutes later, McInerney was offside again, but the assistant referee turned a blind eye. Gomez’s no-look volley dropped behind Besler and, with Jimmy Nielsen advancing, McInerney lifted his chip wide left.

Nagamura off injured

With Paulo Nagaura unable to continue, Peter Vermes went with Jacob Peterson, moving Peterson Joseph deeper into midfield. The move would prove prescient.

After MacMath did well to keep out Sapong’s close range effort, Kansas City put together a gorgeous passing move to take the lead.

Peterson power

A bad touch in midfield allowed Sapong to get on the ball forty yards from goal. He turned and played Kamara up the left, and his low cross found Peterson sweeping in to finish as Valdes slid uselessly behind.

As halftime approached, it seemed likely Sporting KC would double their lead before the teams hit the tunnel. First, a free kick fell to Aurelin Collin at the top of the six yard box. At the final moment, Valdes stepped in to knock the Kansas City defender off the ball.

Then, just before the final whistle, Sapong turned Valdes inside out on the endline before setting up Zusi just inside the eighteen yard box. MacMath dove left to keep his former Maryland teammate’s first shot out, then he bounced up again to parry the follow-up.

Second half

Getting Michael Farfan on the ball was the priority for Philadelphia in the second frame. Gabriel Gomez was removed for Antoine Hoppenot and Farfan was given more freedom to roam the middle third. In the 49th minute, Farfan curled a soft cross into the box that Collin barely knocked away from a lurking McInerney.

A minute later, Danny Cruz was kissed by his princess and awoke from a 45 minute slumber. Sinovic earned Kansas City’s first card for a cynical foul on the Union midfielder, but moments later Cruz would get much deeper before anybody could slow him down.

Cruz control and a goal to boot

A slithering run up the right side took Cruz into the KC box, where a slight knock from Julio Cesar was followed by a lunge from Matt Besler that forced Ismail Elfath to point to the spot.

Michael Farfan stepped up to take the kick, and after Jimmy Nielsen pushed it right Antoine Hoppenot’s smart following run gave him an easy finish on the rebound.

In the 57th minute, Cruz sprung to life again and cut back to find McInerney streaking up the left side. The striker’s header from 15 yards out fooled Nielsen but rebounded off the far post.

A period of Kansas City pressure followed as the smooth edges of the match wore down to a gritty, physical affair. Zusi, Kamara, Sapong, Okugo and Valdes were heavily involved as things came to a head when Zusi ran into Okugo and cried foul for three minutes after.

Hackworth introduced Jimmy McLaughlin for the worn out Cruz, but the young midfielder failed to make much of an impression.

Kamara and Sapong and a Kansas City song

When Sporting Kansas City needs something special, they turn to Kei Kamara. And once again, he delivered.

In the 82nd minute, Kamara brushed aside Daniel and Carroll and, when nobody stepped up to stop him, threaded a pass through to Sapong who finished coolly past an advancing MacMath to seal the Eastern Conference title.

The introduction of Chandler Hoffman and a series of long balls brought the Union no closer to the goal they needed. When a frustrated Okugo crashed into Nielsen while chasing a Daniel free kick it was clear Philly was out of ideas.

Once more, the Union put up a fight but folded late. It was nothing if not a typical performance from the 2012 unit, and fans looking for progress will have to keep their magnifying glasses close by.

13 Comments

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

    Unsurprising game, KC are the best in the East and we aren’t.
    Two things I thought, at least. One, we looked slightly better with two strikers. I hope this one striker stuff dies this off season.
    And, KC is a team with no DPs, young (American even) talent supported by a handful of key veterans. We could be that same kind of team sooner rather than later, assuming Hackworth knows what hes doing.

  2. How deep is Torres in Hackworth’s dog house? Or did Jimmy Mclaughlin have an incredibly amazing half week of practice?

  3. SKC is so well run from top to bottom. They’ve rewarded the fans who have stuck it out from the beginning (i.e. the Wiz days) with a great new park, and they return the favor by creating a great atmosphere. Vermes went out and got or developed the players he needed to fit his system, rather then getting the best players and fitting the system to them. (Or, in our case, just looking in the only 2 countries that our scouting director had connections in and just hoping the players work out.)
    If Hackworth intends to move forward with the 4-3-3 he has a lot of work to do, as I feel we need 2 true wingers (Cruz is good, but we could find someone better), a striker who can hold the ball up better than Jack, and a midfield maestro who can control the ball in the center of the pitch. Although I like the talent we have on this team, theoretically we could find better players at every position. If nothing else there should be a position battle for most of the midfield positions. We currently have the personnel to run a very effective 4-1-3-2, but his insistence on the 4-3-3, which has not worked (the success has come from the 4-2-3-1) concerns me moving forward.

    • James "4-3-3" Forever says:

      Re: the 4-3-3. Have we actually been playing that recently? It feels like Hack abandoned recently. Or that we play so poorly that everything feels like a muddled, sloppy 4-5-1.

      • Philly Cheese says:

        Fully agree that it looks more like a 4-5-1 than anything else. One reason Jack Mac is offsides so often, is that he knows there isn’t going to be another forward pressing towards the goal within 20 yards of him, so he has to fight through two or three defensive players on his own. To say that any of other teammates on the field in the first half were committed to be goal scoring forwards is a joke. Is Hack trying to make everyone “the same” forcing them to play defense and wander the middle of the pitch aimlessly? Two forward offensive pressure must not be practiced much since even when Hoppenot was wearing KC down, he was often in same space as Jack Mac. PLEASE give us Hoffman starting with Jack Mac on Saturday.

    • I would have liked to see Hack try the 4-1-3-2 some more since we weren’t making the playoffs, it seems like instead of saying “you know we aren’t going to make the layoffs so let’s play with some ideas or put a bunch of young guys out there and get some experience” he tried to tow the line and get some guys experience and still make fans happy by trying to win. I would much rather have seen the organization chalk up the season a little while ago and play for next season, the only way to know what you have is to see it in a competitive environment. I like Hack, and don’t blaim him for most of our problems, but I think he screwed the pooch a little.

      • as someone who is going to the Red Bulls game and has kinda resigned himself that this game will make baby Jesus cry, if we don’t at least try and win I might just kill myself.

  4. I think that SKC is a very good team, but it’s easy to see how important Espinoza is to the pressing style that they try to play. There were huge gaps in their midfield in the 2nd half, partially due to Hoppenot being added to the mix.

    BTW, if you’re going to use a file photo for the match report, it should at least try to be current by not showing players who didn’t even play in last night’s match.

  5. I hope that is the last time, M. Farfan takes a PK. Just horrible.

  6. I really don’t know why anyone was surprised by this. For those of us who are still hanging in until the end of the season, it was so disappointing to turn on the telecast and see Carroll (necessary), and Lahoud (ok understandable here, AND Daniel, AND GOMEZ!

    Whatever is going on with Adu and whatever your feelings are toward him, still with him out this CAN’T be who Hackworth uses. Get some of the young kids in there, AT LEAST use Hoffman and Torres, why the hell not at this point???

    It is so disheartening to watch Gomez and Daniel slow to every ball, and Carroll chasing all over this huge field.

    Sorry for the rant, but I hope they give us something that shows hope for next year on Saturday.

    • Freddy on the field or not, I think Hackworth needs to decide to commit to Adu or ship him out. Too expensive, too valuable to hang on the bench or the doghouse.

      The next order of business is Gavilan. I think keeping Gabriel Gomez and his not-quite-an-albatros-but-oversized-relative-to-his-effort-and-leadership salary is a bigger question right now than can Zach, Jimmy, or Christian play with the first team. And I don’t think that getting pulled at halftime is a ringing endorsement but it makes sense to have him on the field.

      After that, I think Keon is next in line of commit or quit for Hack. His salary isn’t nearly as much of an issue and I like him as a player but he doesn’t fit the variety of systems Hack is trying to play. I think he’s a coin flip to be back next season.

      Honestly, I’d rather put the money from Freddy and Gabriel into finding someone who can play with Jack up front. We have a legitmate number 2 striker and a decent option off the bench in Hoppenot – a striker to draw the attention of the defense would make a lot more room for Marfan, Cruz, etc.

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