Union match reports

Match report: Sporting KC 0-1 Philadelphia Union

A gritty effort from the Philadelphia Union gave them their first win at Sporting Park and moved the team back into a playoff spot Friday night.

Conor Casey scored the only goal of the game, Zac MacMath made a number of huge saves, and the Union defense held on for a clean sheet.

The victory broke a five-game winless streak during which the Union only scored one goal. They now have 5 wins and 19 points on the road this season.

“Playing here is incredibly difficult,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “We were up against a really good opponent tonight and we were fortunate, but you can see our fight and we were pretty tough and resilient all the way through.”

First half

John Hackworth reverted to a a 4-2-3-1 to counter the dynamic Sporting KC midfield. Jack McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux both found themselves on the bench, while Michael Farfan and Michael Lahoud started in the midfield, Lahoud partnering with Brian Carroll and Farfan in front of them. Keon Daniel did not travel with the team due to a lingering groin injury.

The home side dominated possession from the opening whistle, and Zac MacMath had to be at his best early on.

In the 14th minute, Benny Feilhaber was brought down by Lahoud at the top of the Union box. The Kansas City midfielder dusted himself off and then took the ensuing free kick himself. Feilhaber’s delivery cleared the Union wall, but MacMath did well to get to his right and palm the free kick over, giving up his body and running into the post on the play.

Ten minutes later, Feilhaber was back at it.

Pulling the strings from deep in the midfield, the former New England man was able to play a one-two with CJ Sapong 20 yards from goal, getting the ball back with a free shot at MacMath. But Feilhaber telegraphed his strike and the Union goalkeeper was down low to snuff it out.

Just two minutes after that in the 26th minute, it would be Graham Zusi testing MacMath. Picking up the ball near the top of the Union box, the crafty USMNT midfielder twisted and turned to find space to shoot. But his fierce left-footed drive from 20 yards was again batted away by the Union goalkeeper.

Kansas City continued to dominate, and the Union’s 36th minute goal came completely against the run of play.

The goal began when Lahoud broke up a KC midfield pass just inside the Union half. The ball fell to Danny Cruz on the right side, and he immediately drove at the Kansas City backline and did well to get past Ike Opara at the top of the KC box with a nifty speed move. His cross was partially blocked, but the ball fell to Conor Casey, who kept the ball alive with a touch off of his shoulder. The touch fell into the path of Michael Farfan, whose full volley blast from short distance was well saved by Jimmy Nielsen. But the rebound fell straight onto the foot of Casey, who smashed the ball in from five yards.

It was the Union’s first goal in some 346 minutes of play.

Sporting looked to respond quickly after going behind. When Zusi sent in a driving ball from a free kick on the right side, MacMath did well to come out and meet the cross and punch clear. It appeared that Opara fouled MacMath as the goalkeeper punched the ball, and the Union goalkeeper stayed down temporarily. But with the ball still in play, MacMath gathered himself and got back to his feet to snuff out another cross, this time holding onto the ball.

Second half

While the Union made no changes at the half, Sporting brought on Soony Saad for Jacob Peterson to try to find their equalizer.

In the 50th minute, Dominic Dwyer had the best chance of the second half for KC when right back Chance Myers swung in a dangerous, curling cross. The ball bounced behind the Union back line and Dwyer met the cross with a diving header on the back post, but it flew just wide of the Union goal.

A Union counterattack in the 62nd minute would give them a chance to add to their lead. Brian Carroll slotted a pass onto the right side for Sheanon Williams to cross near the corner of the KC box. Williams did well to pick out the run of Michael Farfan, who hit the cross first time, but Nielsen again kept out the midfielder’s volley.

Soon after that, Danny Cruz would try to duplicate his first half run, attempting to beat Opara again for speed. But this time the winger pulled up and was forced to come off with what John Hackworth described as “a hamstring tweak” after the game. Sebastien Le Toux would come on to replace him.

Jack McInerney came on for Sheanon Williams as another injury substitution 15 minutes later after the Union defender went down when he got tangled up with the ball bouncing in the Union box. The right back’s injury was unclear, but Hackwork didn’t seem to think it was too serious in his post-match comments.

Aaron Wheeler, who came on for Casey in the 67th minute, had two chances to shoot at Nielsen’s goal but failed to force a save either time. McInerney was absolutely body checked by Opara late in the match after the striker had pushed the ball past the big defender. Ricardo Salazar only saw fit to give a yellow card, but Opara could still hear from the league office.

Sporting would resort to long ball tactics as they searched for their equalizer, but the Union back line stood strong and held off the onslaught for the win.

“That was a tough game, a very physical match,” Hackworth said, “It wasn’t the prettiest of games for us.”

Pretty or not, a win is a win.

“The most important thing for our team is that we came here and got a result,” Hackworth said.

That result moves the Union back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the team will have to sit through a full slate of weekend games before they will know if they are still in fifth place when they face Toronto at PPL Park next Saturday.

Regardless, the Union know the task that lies before them.

“We have four more games left and we still have to win at least two more games,” Casey said. “We know where we are at and tonight was a big win, it’s just important that we carry the win like this brings into next week and go after three points at home next week.”

Philadelphia Union 
Zac MacMath, Amobi Okugo, Raymon Gaddis, Jeff Parke, Sheanon Williams (Jack McInerney 83′), Michael Lahoud, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, Danny Cruz (Sebastien LeToux 58′), Fabinho, Conor Casey (Aaron Wheeler 67′)
Unused substitutes: Antoine Hoppenot, Oka Nikolov, Roger Torres, Leo Fernandes

Sporting KC
Jimmy Nielsen, Ike Opara, Aurelien Collin, Seth Sinovic, Chance Myers, Benny Feilhaber (Peterson Joseph 75′), Graham Zusi, Oriol Rosell, CJ Sapong, Dominic Dwyer (Claudio Bieler 66′), Jacob Peterson (Soony Saad 45′)
Unused substitutes: Josh Gardner, Matt Besler, Eric Kronberg, Lawrence Olum

Scoring Summary
PHI 36′ Conor Casey

Disciplinary Summary
SKC: Rosell (caution), 34’
PHI: Carroll (caution), 70’
SKC: Feilhaber (caution), 74’
PHI: Williams (caution) 82’
SKC: Opara (caution) 89’

Referee: Ricardo Salazar

Sporting Kansas City Philadelphia Union
19 Attempts on Goal 8
5 Shots on Target 3
11 Shots off Target 5
3 Blocked Shots 0
7 Corner Kicks 1
11 Fouls 17
30 Open Play Crosses 12
0 Offsides 2
3 First Yellow Cards 2
0 Second Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
60 Duels Won 51
54% Duels Won % 45%
452 Total Pass 277
80% Passing Accuracy % 64%
61.8% Possession 38.2%


  1. Really ugly win, but it reminded me of our road wins earlier this season over Colorado and Chicago. Zac played great and kept us in it during the 1st half. Crucial three points.

    I thought Lahoud played well in that 2nd holding role. His range and ball recovery is vastly superior to Keon in that role which really helped Carroll’s effectiveness.

    I also liked Michael Farfan’s performance last night. He really got forward and put himself in some great attacking positions while not totally shirking his defensive responsibilities.

    Are we the only team in the league that subs off a right back for a forward when protecting a one goal lead on the road? Another example on how limited our roster is.

  2. Absolutely awful play by the union, except for Zac, who was exceptional, and some other marginal performances.
    But, we won! And I will absolutely take it, huge 3 points to pick up.
    Pretty bad to watch, and I really hope this doesn’t make Hack think he’s validated, bc it was a miracle, but like is said, huge 3 points!

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      I wouldn’t say awful. I would say they did exactly what the lineup and plan was. Bunker in and take advantage of the chances. That’s how you beat a team like KC on the road. It wasn’t pretty but effective. I’m not saying Hack is a genius or anything but it got the job done.
      Also, I wouldn’t be sad if Cruz had to miss a few games. I know he set up the goal, but that guy KILLS ME. He kicks and chases like my son’s 8 year old team. ZERO BALL SKILLS.

  3. That game was ugly, ugly, ugly if I didn’t have a rooting interest I would have shut it off at halftime.

    The Union have a special power even when they win you still get the feeling you had 2 hours of your life taken from you.

    • Southside Johnny says:

      I know what you mean. I find myself feeling bad for our players who have to hate playing in a bunker and the better opponents forced to ugly up to deal with it.

  4. I didn’t think the game was all that ugly and I thought we played pretty well. A lot of wins and draws this season were really lucky fly-by-seat situations or gifts by the ref. I don’t feel like this was luck; it was really good defending and goalkeeping.

  5. Stressful to watch, and I thought that the lineup screamed that the game plan was to play sit back and take it, bend but don’t break, play for a draw on the road, passivity. I was very impressed that they were able to crash so many bodies into the box for that goal since they had settled so deep for so much of the game to that point. Funny, that was also the type of goal that Jack was finishing so often early this year, cleaning up the box. Good result.

  6. Great game by MacMath. Nice to see him sitting alone at the top of the league in shutouts (even if only for a day or two). I still think the way Jack is going to break out of his slump is for him to go a full 90.

    On a separate note, I saw a pretty convincing argument for the US not to play its top players in the next round of WC qualifiers. It’s an absolute disgrace that a field in that bad shape was chosen over PPL Park to host a qualifier (and remember, the game against Jamaica could have been a VERY important game when Livestrong was chosen to host it). Anyone who remembers Onyewu’s injury in 2009 has to be dreading something similar happening on a poor field in a meaningless game.

    • Yeah, what the hell was up with that field? Chunks of grass the size of frying pans were coming up with every little movement

    • They had problems with the pitch when that stadium first opened, but I thought they had corrected them. Luckily, no one got hurt and it didn’t have a huge impact on the match.

    • I can’t imagine the MNT ever playing at PPL park again after that fiasco versus Colombia. No US support. Colombia fans acting like it was a home game throwing things on the field. Onyewu almost got hit with a bottle taking a free kick. Unfortunately I think we blew it for a couple of years at least.

      • That game against Columbia was just a friendly and sandwiched in between 2 important Union games. No wonder no one showed up!!! US soccer knows better and will soon schedule other games in PPL.

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Guido and Not Me, there was also a USWNT friendly at PPL during that stretch of 5 games at PPL Park in 11 days. Dan had a good take on the low attendance at the time:

      • Just read the article, valid points, I remember being wiped out from so many games. My thought was “does US Soccer see it the same way?” we haven’t gotten anything since and PPL Park is great (except the parking lot). Since we didn’t get any qualifiers, when is the next time we could possibly see the MNT. I think not for at least 2 years.

      • Yeah, the article is spot on. School night, price tag, and packed schedule were what kept us away. I gave my daughter the choice of one, and she picked going to the WNT game. (That game was the same night Roy Halladay threw his playoff no-hitter. We were listening in the car on the way down, and were thankful the person behind us had a radio with them.)

  7. I think that’s the first time Macmath has stolen a win for the team. He’s certainly had good games in the past, but this one was different. There were plenty of times where, if SKC scores nobody faults Macmath. But he made all the saves. And that’s how your goalie can steal a game for you.

  8. So early on- I wanted to root for SKC because I like their soccer better. I love Philly, but I love soccer too, and this team is making me choose.

  9. All things considered we’ll take it. This is the team we have for this year anyway. So I had no expectations that coherent offensive production via the midfield was going to occur. We can complain that some unused personnel might be able to change that, but the manager disagrees.

    So if on the road, and you can’t build an attack, play for the counter attack and it worked. Yes MacMath was huge. But there was also some strong defending under consistent pressure. LaHoud played well and at least helped to limit Zusi’s and Feilhaber’s opportunities. Cruz did what he does and created the scrum that led to the lone goal.

    Saw little from Fabinho and LeToux after he came on. Thought the Wheeler sub was well timed and the big man did his job helping defensively and almost had the insurance goal.

    All in all that 2013 Union soccer. I’ll take it and say good job.

    • Okugo and Williams in particular had some really nice interventions. It’s games like these where you understand how easy it was to fall in love with Okugo at CB. Still want him at CDM, but he is doing very well at CB.
      And Williams has also quietly elevated his game in recent months.Very steady at RB for us.

      • I know everyone has this notion of Okugo at CDM, but I have a hard time believing he will be more effective there than at CD, I think he has found his spot.

        There is a reason Soumare wasn’t starting, Okugo is pretty damn good.

  10. He will manage next season for sure now. This was a “nobody believes in us” game. Hope someone in that locker room knows they still need to win Saturday.

  11. This game was rope a dope for soccer. We got beat everywhere but got the result. We’re lucky Dom Dwyer sucks, bottom line.

  12. I managed to catch the first half, up until the goal, at a bar down here in Jacksonville.

    Judging by this and the highlights, I feel I’m better off for having missed most of the match.

    Nothing less than an absolute drubbing of Toronto will be acceptable.

    • You missed some good stuff in the 2nd half. We had done good counters and Wheeler and someone else (think of was Jack) could have made it 3-0.
      Liked it that Hack subbed Jack for Williams. One of his most brilliant moves ever!

      • Well to be somewhat fair, he already had his backup fullback on the field playing midfield. It’s not like he could bring somebody off the bench to take the right fullback spot. So you move Gaddis to the right, and slide Fabinho back into the left.
        Now you have to decide who to put in that vacated mid spot, and the decision was Le Toux at mid and Jack at forward was better than Le Toux at forward and at mid.
        I don’t think it’s as crazy a substitution as people are making it out to be.

  13. Back in 2010 I watched the team give up so many cheap goals while trying to play attractive, passing football, and I wished for less flair and more wins. #happynothappy

  14. The Black Hand says:

    God bless Conor Casey!

  15. Dang……..I’ll take it. Agree that we went Rope-a-dope and just absorbed the punishment early in the game. Our lineup dictated that strategy, and I think our guys executed well for the most part.

    Williams was brilliant. I thought it was his best game. The entire back line looked solid….again. And MacMath was HUGE.

    I know, I know, I sound like I have rainbows coming out my ass right now. But, WTF we deserve some satisfaction after the last month+ of impotency. I feel great about the WIN and can’t wait for TFC.

  16. Atomic Spartan says:

    Interesting strategy by Hackworth, substituting quantity for quality in the midfield. While still not convinced that multi-midfield ropeadope is the way to go, it’s hard to argue with the results: making both Cruz and Marfan more productive. That goal does not happen without Cruz’s trademark wild run, and Marfan’s hard rebounded shot. Mixed well with staunch defense, decent personnel choices and the league leader in shutouts, the strategy worked. This time. Just hoping Keon has a long and restful rehab period, say, about a month or more.

    • Just want to point out that this match report and even the NBCSC commentators got the goal sequence wrong. It’s Okugo (not Lahoud) that initiated the attack that lead to the goal. He broke up the play and made the quick pass to Cruz.

  17. Our 1 precious goal would not have happened without DANNY CRUZ creating the opportunity with his speed (and guile!)
    I’ve been down on the kid from time to time like everyone else(except Coach hack)but CRUZ should get as much credit as anyone for that victory. Haters have to concede that, no?
    Cruz has directly contributed to at least 3 of our wins this year. Maybe we should stop dogging the dude???????

    • Ok, your right, and I thought of that once we scored the goal. This formation also was beneficial to him but his hustle was key. Overall he still drives me nuts but yes, WE WOULDN’T HAVE WON WITHOUT DANNY CRUZ! Damn that was hard. Ok, I’m OK.

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