Union match reports

Match report: Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Philadelphia Union survived a middling performance and escaped the fortress that is Children’s Mercy Park with a point Thursday against Sporting Kansas City.

Diego Rubio’s wonderful strike in the 49th minute was cancelled by Roland Alberg’s penalty in the 69th. John McCarthy did his best Andre Blake, making several key saves to preserve the 1-1 result.

Sporting Kansas City have to wonder how they didn’t earn a victory, despite extending their franchise-record home unbeaten streak to 19 games. They controlled the tempo as well as the statistics, with decided edges in shots, corners, and possession.

The ease with which they controlled the match may be counterintuitive to what was expected when the starting lineups were announced. Peter Vermes had to replace five key members of his side due to injuries, international duties, and suspensions. Graham Zusi, Dom Dwyer, Matt Besler, and Roger Espinoza were all unavailable while Gerso Fernandez started on the bench.

Meanwhile, Jim Curtin’s only change from the team that beat New England 3-0 was at goalkeeper. McCarthy was in net while Blake is with the Jamaican national team.

The game opened with the Union standing firmly on the back foot. Sporting’s high pressure caused all sorts of problems for Philadelphia, whose poor passing and bad decisions led to countless turnovers in dangerous areas.

It was the visitors, however, who generated the first chance. It was substantially against the run of play.

Chris Pontius collected the ball with space along the right flank. With a lovely long ball from midfield, he switched play to Sapong, who made a smart diagonal run toward the far side of the box. The forward patiently held up play before laying the ball off to an onrushing Ilsinho. The Brazilian, however,  couldn’t create separation from Erik Palmer-Brown and his shot could only trouble the side of the net.

It was Philadelphia’s only chance of the half, as the home side quickly regained momentum.

A minute later, Kansas City had their first chance to break the deadlock. Derrick Jones gave away possession in the midfield to Ilie Sánchez. The Spanish No. 6 chipped a pass over the Union back line to Diego Rubio. His first touch was a wonderful one, deadening the ball as Jack Elliott raced by. With time and space from six yards out, Rubio tried curling a ball into the upper right corner when a powerful strike would have sufficed. The shot went harmlessly over the bar.

The chance was a precursor of what was to come.

Another Union turnover led to a quick Kansas City counter in the 17th minute. Jimmy Medranda played a through ball to Latif Blessing, who took one touch before forcing McCarthy’s first save of the game.

Neither team would generate another legitimate chance until the 28th minute. Philadelphia looked to counter after a poor Sporting corner. The ball found its way to Ilsinho, who made a central run. With numbers and Union players to his left and right, the No. 10 was caught between two minds, and Medranda was quick to step forward and win the ball.

With six Union players caught upfield, Kansas City were quick to capitalize. They worked the play to Daniel Salloi. He cut inside, left to right, before firing a shot from 25 yards away. McCarthy’s sprawling save kept the game scoreless.

McCarthy would make his best save in the 39th minute. Five Union defenders surrounded Blessing, who stood just inside the arc outside of the box. Nobody, however, thought to track right back Saad Abdul-Salaam’s run into the penalty area– except Sporting’s Rubio and McCarthy. Just as the pass was made, the goalkeeper raced out and took away any angle.

His big save came with a big scare. His foot planted, his knee buckled, and his body contorted. McCarthy quickly called for the trainers but was able to stay on the pitch.

It wasn’t long into the second half before Kansas City finally found their first. In the 49th minute, Seth Sinovic played a long ball up the left which Rubio headed into the path of Daniel Salloi. Salloi cut a pass back to the Chilean forward at the edge of the box. After missing the far corner in the first-half, Rubio made no mistake here. His brilliant strike from distance found its mark passed the outstretched arms of McCarthy.

Curtin looked to inject life into the Union’s listless performance in the 61st minute, introducing Marcus Epps and Roland Alberg at the expense of Chris Pontius and Ilsinho.

It worked.

The Union immediately became a more threatening side. Right away, Alberg whipped a dangerous cross into the box, but no Union player could find the ball after Sapong headed it down.

Philadelphia’s increased pressure soon paid dividends.

Haris Medunjanin slotted a wonderful through ball to Sapong in the box. Benny Feilhaber’s challenge from behind left the forward on the ground and referee Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot. Alberg stepped up to take the penalty. As Tim Melia dove right, the Dutchman sent it the other way. Philadelphia found an equalizer in the 69th minute.

There was an almost immediate response from Kansas City. Feilhaber’s free kick found an unmarked Blessing in the box. Only McCarthy’s strong right foot kept the game even in the 71st minute.

It was McCarthy again denying Blessing in the 74th minute, who once again found freedom to unleash a header from a Feilhaber free kick.

Kansas City continued to apply pressure as the Union once again sat back, looking to preserve at least a point.

The pressure increased tenfold after Gerso’s introduction in the 80th minute.

Philadelphia’s bend-but-don’t-break strategy produced its share of harrowing moments, especially as the game entered stoppage time. With a water break and injuries, the Union had to survive seven added minutes.

Philadelphia almost stole the game in the 91st minute. Medunjanin played another lovely through ball to Sapong, but the striker couldn’t adjust his body to fire on frame.

Then, Kansas City let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers. A poor Oguchi Onyewu clearance fell to Salloi at the edge of the area. His pass to Blessing was contested, but the loose ball squirted right back to the 20-year-old. From seven yards out and with a gaping net, Salloi pushed his shot too far to the right. It would have been the game-winner.

Salazar blew the final whistle after the Union defended their 14th corner of the night.

Union players collapsed on the pitch, exhausted and spent, but happy to have picked up their first road point since a 4-0 win over D.C. United on May 13.

Three points
  • John* in the box. It’s always cause for concern when Blake leaves for international duty. McCarthy, however, was excellent. Most of his six saves were of the jaw-dropping variety. The Union shouldn’t fret with their backup in net.
  • Ilsin– Oh no! The Brazilian took a step back in Kansas City. Not only did he fail to create from the No. 10, but his poor decisions killed numerous Union chances.
  • A golden opportunity. Pontius failed to score again in his final performance before international duty. His departure, though, leaves Epps with a great opportunity to build on his solid work as a substitute.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake; Raymon Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, Giliano Wijnaldum; Derrick Jones, Haris Medunjanin; Ilsinho (Roland Alberg ’61), Chris Pontius (Marcus Epps ’61), Fafa Picault (Jay Simpson ’89); C.J. Sapong
Unused Subs: Jake McGuire, Joshua Yaro, Keegan Rosenberry, Brian Carroll

Sporting Kansas City

Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Erik Palmer-Brown, Ike Opara, Seth Sinovic; Benny Feilhaber, Ilie Sánchez, Jimmy Medranda; Latif Blessing, Diego Rubio (Gerso Fernandes ’89), Daniel Salloi 
Unused subs:
Andrew Dykstra, Kevin Ellis, Sony Mustivar, Tyler Pasher, Cameron Porter, Soony Saad

Scoring summary

KC: Diego Rubio (Daniel Salloi) — 49′
PHI: Roland Alberg (PK) — 48′

Disciplinary summary

KC: Saad Abdul Salaam — 64′ (unsporting behavior)
KC: Benny Feilhaber — 68′ (dissent)
PHI: Haris Medunjanin – 68′ (dissent)

Sporting Kansas City Philadelphia Union
19 Shots 8
7 Shots on Target 2
7 Shots off Target 2
5 Blocked Shots 4
14 Corner Kicks 3
23 Crosses 6
1 Offsides 2
9 Fouls 12
2 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
465 Total Passes 269
82% Passing Accuracy 64%
64% Possession 36%
51 Duels Won 60
45% Duels Won % 55%
15 Tackles Won 17
1 Saves 6
18 Clearances 32


  1. el Pachyderm says:

    Without question the best part of the game was the final whistle- that this is even debatable is a laugh…. I’d rather lose 2-0 every week with 83% pass completion. Someone has to stand for an ethic of aesthetics – I accept the responsibility.
    The weekly and now yearly play of the first team does not represent me in any way at all and despite the absence of Alejandro Bedoya or Andre Blake how anyone can rationalize this result as a success is beyond me… the standard of play is simply unacceptable individually and cohesively.
    When a 4th round rookie and a 35 year old veteran are the two best players on the field something is far amiss.

    Read. don’t read. Agree. don’t agree. Whatever. Not a bit of it matters. I know I’m right….so not two more words from me this week or one more breath about this game and this team and this game plan and this philosophy of play as I’m sure many of you will be happy to read—-
    ——I’ll be drinking my fill in Cynicism Corner. You can keep the precious point. Can keep the false ideals of playoffs.

    • El,

      I understand this sentiment, as I arrived here this morning thinking that we see far too many GK highlights. It’s like complimenting a boxer on how many punches he can take. A very Philly mindset, and a good quality to have, but when does the fighter start fighting back?

      More fight, less punching bag.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      I thought Wijnaldum played pretty well, but I can understand your frustration in how the team continually gave away the ball so easily, especially in the first half. SKC seemed to want to attack Gaddis and then made sure to isolate him and Pontius when they recovered the ball so they had no outlet other than to play it up the wing. Just so many turnovers and wasted possession.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Neither the 4th round rookie nor the 35 year old were the best players on the field last night. That honor went to a kid from North Philly standing between the pipes.

      • OneManWolfpack says:

        NorthEAST Philly… Mayfair to be exact. My neighborhood 🙂 But your point is well received.

    • lopezzzz says:


    • Eh, I agree with you in general, but I feel like the team has been playing well. I never expected this game to look pretty and it didn’t and I think that’s ok once in a while. As long as this doesn’t become the standard.

      • +1. Don’t throw out two months of progress because of an ugly game against a team that makes everyone play ugly.

  2. Zizouisgod says:

    It’s really odd for how direct the Union play, Curtin still chooses Ilsinho over Alberg each week. Alberg’s style just fits so much better as he’s decisive in his actions and is generally looking to immediately attack when he gets the ball (and mostly shoot)

    Would I rather have a real 10 who would allow us to control some possession? Absolutely, but if this is all that you got, I think the team is better served with Alberg in that role.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Alberg has made me a believer… not saying he’s a superstar… just saying he has improved. Dude has made things happen the last few times he has been on the field. He has earned a start or two.

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    Middling is a vast overstatement for the Union’s performance last night. They seemed to be playing a game of hot potato, trying to give away the ball as quickly as possible. I’m surprised that their possession was as high as it was at 36%.
    I believe their only shot on goal that wasn’t from the spot didn’t come until stoppage time.

  4. Within the first four minutes of the game, it was clear that this was going to be a flurry of giveaways by the Union. Within the first minute, in fact, Pontius had both a foul and a giveaway. It was ugly in every respect, I agree. But, there is something admirable in being able to absorb the best shot of the top team in the other division, and stay with them. The counterattack looked disjointed, and the fullbacks were scrambled all night while KC attacked Gaddis repeatedly. (Is there any chance that Rosenberry can get out of the doghouse? Please?) Still, by the end, even Sporting looked like they were playing for the point. Some of it might have been the heat, some a skill differential, but a week ago, a point on the road at KC would have been a good deal. We can worry about aesthetics against a better matchup.

  5. My thoughts…
    SKC coach is really good. The team had a plan and was cohesive in its execution.
    SKC can really pass and really receive passes.
    If the Union had a goal scorer, they would have won that game. Sapong’s hustle is commendable but he is not what we should spite to.
    Speaking of Sapong, why didn’t he get the PK?
    Re the possession disparity… I to would rather have Pep style ball control, but it’s just not realistic with this group. I thought it was not realistic in this league (I’m relatively new to MLS) until I saw last night. They were good parts.
    All that said, I wonder there Union staff made the tactical decision to cede possession??? Sometimes lesser talented teams choose to play counter attack.
    The defense first plan is working. The Union was in that game.

    • scottymac says:

      I don’t know that it’s the “plan” to cede possession so much as the players that play don’t possess well.
      You asked and answered your CJ question in both lines. He’s prized for his “hold up play”, not, you know, scoring.

  6. The Union played so bad I considered turning it off around the 51 min mark. Then I realized I had nothing better to do and got a drink.
    They were lucky to gain a point. They gave they ball away as if it were a hot potato. Gaddis, please no more Jimbo. The players looked run down, gassed, kaput. Sure Jim rotates his squad…BADLY. Pontius should not have started. Ilsino probably should not have started. Sapong looks beaten into the ground again, but for the love of Christ, Simpson is god damned HORRIBLE. Running into 3 players as if he was Messi and had moves. Gets a breakaway and runs straight at a defender instead of pulling him wide and gets closed down by their trailer… Please admit your mistake Stewart and cut him loose.
    Another season, same ‘ol Union. Bah humbug!

  7. Finally, if you want aesthetic football, the point of your ire must be Jay Sugarman. That style costs money. And to be clear, that is what I want too. Sugarman is cheap.

  8. scottymac says:

    Can anyone explain the Simpson hate for his biffed breakaway but no one really calling out Sapong had two more points blown off his wrong foot into the stands? Just help me out, is it the money?

    • Well Sapong was being draped all over when he took one of those shots, and usually is being pounded. Whereas Simpson can’t even get to that point so yeah not hard to understand.
      So what I can’t understand is what people think Simpson has that indicates quality when he has ZERO end product? Oh, I’m sorry, what one goal? Okay….

      • Curtin gives him garbage time. He looked more than decent in his first three starts, got hurt, then CJ took over.

        You absolutely cannot not make any judgments about Simpson when all he is able to get these days is junk time. I put it on Curtin for not rotating and riding CJ into the ground again.

      • I agree CJ is getting ridden into the ground, but I think that’s because Curtin believes he has no options. I think he’s right. It’s well stated by Jimmy that if you show well in practice you’ll get a shot. Obviously Simpson isn’t showing well enough so he gets “junk time”. Some players only need 4 secs to show so…Simpson has done nothing to convince me he’s worth any time at all.

      • Eh, hard to say about practice. We aren’t there. I for one don’t give Curtin that much credit. Even if Simpson is the worst practice player ever, I’d still give him a start here or there because it’s more important to NOT run CJ into the ground or injure him.

        I agree he is not looking great for his price tag, but I want to see more and we have reason to see more. Not like he is #3 or #4 right now. He is clearly the #2 striker at this point. And I want to see more than 5 minute junk sub appearances.

      • We just plainly disagree on Simpson. Though we agree on CJ needing a break. At this point I’d rather see Davies out there. Or hell even Alberg, rather than Simpson.

      • agreed on CJ needed a break. we have options. he’s not lighting it up every match so i don’t think rotating strikers is anything that is harming this woefully performing team.

      • Section 114 (Former) says:

        Obviously CJ needs a break.
        Obviously Curtin doesn’t replace a player unless they are hurt or are stinking up the joint. Squad rotation? Hah! Clearly shares AI’s view on practice, despite his comments.
        Simpson has shown nothing. I’d be willing to give him a chance, if only to give CJ a break. Or bring up Conneh????

  9. I just want to say John McCarthy has, is and will continue to be my favorite player. I felt he played outstanding and made the saves look easy even though we all knew it was good decision making, technique and a bit of courage . Now with that said this was a usual game for the Union. Every now and then the team has the possession advantage or executing one touch passing as if they play for a top notch team . So for me this was anothe game of watching the goalie be put to the test. I’m not knowledgeable enough if these players are just average or not very good. I do know that when Ahlberg is put in the offense changes. Now is this a good tactic by The coach. Forcing the defense of the other team to change 2/3 of the way through the game or is this just dumb luck. Would Ahlbeg have the same effect if he started ? We are fortunate to have McCarthy and Blake but even with Eliot having a rookie of he year season the Union seem to put themselves in dangerous spots in the box. Is it a lack of talent or is it bad technique? Goalies will get scored upon no matter how good they are playing if they are receiving a barrage of attacks. My questions are not rhetorical. If anyone can give a educated answer without prejudice Imwould appreciate it. I just can’t believe we have all the average players in the league!

  10. Roger that says:

    That was the worst the Union looked all year IMO. Jones looked like an acadamy player last night. Pontius, Gaddis also looked bad. Ilson Jr. had his usual moment or two, but on the whole a bad performance. I gotta think some squad rotation would’ve made for a better product, but we’ll never know. On the plus side, Giliano W is looking a little better every start.

    Happy to take a point, thanks to some luck and grit on the part of Gooch, Elliot and McCarthy.

    • you could’ve rotated the entire back line, 3 mids and striker and likely gotten the same result last night. no one aside from Haris is a lock for their position. sad

  11. Some competent coaching would make for a better product.

  12. The Truth says:

    How did we manage to steal that point? Props to McCarthy.

    • McCarthy had some nice saves last night, but SKC did a poor job of finishing, and the boys in light blue gave a weak effort in almost all of their numerous corner kick opportunities.

    • He got a point I didn’t expect, so good on ya McCarthy. I will give him his props, he made some of the plays he was supposed to make, and his kicking game has improved quite a bit.
      However, he was (as usual) moving completely the wrong way on three different occasions that I could see, the most obvious (and cring-worthy) being his “spectacular” airborne save. The kid just does not seem to have a clue how to flow with the ball.

  13. pragmatist says:

    Funny…we played like crap on the road against the best team in the West, stole a point (the goal of almost all road games), and people are still complaining incessantly.

    • Maybe it’s because we want something better than a bottom of the barrel to middling club after 7 years. Or a coach that uses his eyes rather than metrics the sports physics guys give him.

      • Why do people keep saying we are bottom of the barrel. We are a mid table team right now and that includes a terrible start. Yes we all want more, but lets not overstate things here.

      • “bottom of the barrel to middling club”…Is that not their record for the past 7 years or did they finish top one season I missed?
        How long was that win-less streak again?
        Now who’s overstating?

      • I agree I want more but why bring up the winless streak that extends over months of not playing. But the team had played pretty well recently and just stole a tough road point where they didn’t look good. So yeah, some complaints are valid but it just seems over the top to me.
        Also everyone seems happy with the subs for the game so maybe he does use his eyes?

    • Pepito, the biggest cat in the whole wide world says:

      Yes, the horror of Union fans actually wanting the team to look like they know how to play soccer. The Union got lucky and stole a point. Are we supposed to applaud them for it? Fans can like the result without liking the dreadful display the Union put on last night.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      “Funny…we played like crap on the road against the best team in the West (who were without five key players) , stole a point (the goal of almost all road games), and people are still complaining incessantly.”

      I fixed it for you 😉

      • pragmatist says:

        And we were missing arguably 2 of our top 3 players, and were playing our 4th game in 12 days.
        Since the beginning of the year, when Bedoya has not been at the 6/8, we have been utter trash. When he is there, we win games by 2-4 goals. Is anyone finding a correlation yet?
        I am in no way suggesting this was pretty. We should have gotten blown out. But the bottom line is that we didn’t, and we got the point. And now we have a long break to recover, get back to fitness, and move on.
        I’m not blowing smoke, I’m arguing that the Union have had a horrible history of throwing points away in the past. This time, they went on the road and totally stole a point. How often has that happened in their history?
        Yeah, it was crap. But it was crap that got us a valuable point, with an exhausted team. Take it and move on.

  14. Matt Thornton says:

    I don’t know who the heck takes pride in a team that plays like the Union played last night. There are hardly words to describe how abysmal that first 45 minutes was. Pontius would have better served us if he were in Nashville already. Philly looked like they found 11 professionals before the game and said, “Hey guys, go play some soccer!” The KC broadcasters were noting how KC plays the same system in U14 all the way up through USL/SCK in order to have coherency no matter the personnel. It showed; even with 5 changes KC was the better team the entire night. I can’t possibly conceive what Jay Sugarman and the ownership are thinking when they watch end product like this.

    • pragmatist says:

      “KC plays the same system in U14 all the way up through USL/SCK.”
      Isn’t this one of the biggest complaints against Curtin/Stewart? They are so married to the formation that they won’t change at all. They want to play the same system from the Academy thru the Union.
      Again, it looked bad, but it is being implemented as part of the system Stewart is putting in place.

      • I think the main criticism is that many of the 1st team players don’t fit the system well, especially some of the players brought in over the 18 months since the decision to implement the system was made.
        To me, SKC looked great in the way that they organized their defense AND offense. Aside from their atrocious finishing, they looked like they belong in another league from the Union last night. If it’s possible to get played off the field in a draw, that’s what I saw in that game.

      • pragmatist says:

        That’s fair. The issue of player recruitment is beginning to pop up in a more obvious way. Before, it was an unwillingness to spend money, now it may be a matter of not getting the right players (and still not spending money).
        If you are 100% committed to a system, you better find guys that can play in it.

      • Matt Thornton says:

        And I commend that if the Union can get consistent production and system buy-in from the guys they sign. SKC has gone for known commodities (Espinoza in his second stint) or Nemeth and Gerso as examples of the types of wingers that fit their system, and have done well with younger guys getting and taking chances within their system.

        I’m not quite convinced that if Jim had put in a little bit more rotation with fresher legs we would have been that overrun in the first half. Nobody on the field could match SKC’s intensity, and it didn’t even look like we were playing any system. Steel plays the same 4-2-3-1, right, and we’re on the road against a western conference opponent, plug in some of the fringe guys and get them experience.

        I could argue against that given we have the gold cup break right after, so run the first team into the ground and they can rest after, so hindsight is 20/20, but still. No rotation? Epps and Alberg came on and the Union had their only spells of possession greater than SKC’s.

  15. A point is a point, and the U need all of them in their desperate drive to be the 6th place team in the East and claim victory for the season.

    I do give Curtin credit for making impactful substitutions for once. And he made 2 at once and made them 10 minutes earlier then he usually does. Maybe Curtin is developing too. Maybe.

  16. I did not see this game. And from the reading here I’m not sure I want to see the replay. I think qualifying the point the U “stole” from this game ,from a depleted opponent,is what fans hope for. I know the product is crap. I also would rather see something more entertaining! But the team did what they should have done. Taken advantage of the situation and secured a point. I’m right in step with thoes looking for more. I hope it comes soon. But ugly as it was… they did the job!

  17. Here is the SKC view. Interesting…. I gotta say, I like their coach. Also Falhaber is every bit a jerk he appeared to be. https://www.sportingkc.com/post/2017/07/06/quotes-sporting-kc-1-1-philadelphia-union-july-6-2017

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