Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union – Sporting Kansas City

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Who: Philadelphia Union (  ) vs. Sporting Kansas City ()
What: 2018 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, PA
When: Sunday, September 24, 1 p.m.
Watch: ESPN
Whistle: Mark Geiger (REF), Gianni Facchini (AR1), Logan Brown (AR2), Chris Penso (4th), Jon Freemon (VAR)

The lead to this article was originally written to focus on the Union going head to head with Eagles and the return of Carson Wentz on Sunday. The author, like many of the readers as well, was expecting a road loss on Wednesday, the subsequent coaching and scheduling conundrum, the “insult to injury” serendipity that so many eyeballs and butts in seats would be lost Sunday to the Birds, and the eventuality of another long, slow, and fading Union season.

…and then Fafa Picault changed everything. “We still don’t suck,” he said. Right you are, Mr. Gazelle.

The Union head into Sunday’s clash against Sporting Kansas City with renewed levity and a real opportunity to choose their own adventure as the season and the U.S. Open Cup come to a close.

Scouting report: Sporting Kansas City

Sporting have been top of the table out west for most of the season. Johnny Russell, Felipe Gutierrez, and Khiry Shelton were among the notable off season additions to the perennial contenders (and Krisztian Nemeth came back to town after his brief stint in New England), joining familiar faces like Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, and Roger Espinoza. Though the Western Conference is certainly the lesser of the two tables this season, don’t underestimate what Sporting have done thus far.

As always, Kansas City are dynamic in attack. Their slightly left-leaning 4-3-3 will put a ton of pressure on the Union back four, and recent results suggest the Boys in Blue better bring their A-game: 2-0 at LAFC, 3-0, 2-0, and 1-0 respectively to Portland, Minnesota, and Orlando (with a 3-1 loss, short-handed at Seattle sandwiched in there), and 5-1 at San Jose.

The highlights from that San Jose match, irrespective of the fact that the Quakes are the league’s current dumpster fire (but certainly capable, as evidenced by their midweek fixture against Atlanta), illustrate Sporting’s movement, pace, and ability to finish. Given how thoroughly Ignacio Piatti and Montreal Impact exploited the Union in similar ways, expect KC to try and do the same.

  • Injury report: OUT: Jimmy Medranda (D), Cristian Lobato (M)
  • Suspended: None.
  • International duty: None.
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The Union looked devoid of creative options last weekend against Montreal. Midweek in Seattle, the creativity didn’t quite arrive but the results did. Fafa Picault gets the obvious accolades, but SuperMan Andre Blake made a reappearance, as did Derrick Jones in his best professional performance to date.

It’s difficult to know if the Union will rest a group of starters to keep them fresh for Wednesday’s cup final or put the A-team on the field to see if they can recapture a bit of their mojo. Most observers are predicting the former, but given how unpredictable this Union season has been, it seems almost as likely that the Boys in Blue will trot out 11 new unannounced signings or let Bethlehem Steel play in their place.

The formation will be the same, Jack Elliot will miss the match because of his red card, and the Union will surprise you.

  • Injury report: OUT: Matt Real (D), QUESTIONABLE: Ilsinho (M), Borek Dockal (M)
  • Suspended: Jack Elliot (Red card)
  • International duty: None.
Key matchup: Ray Gaddis (or Fabinho?) v. Bouncing back

Ray Gaddis had a night to forget in his last match at home: giveaway on Montreal’s first goal, the closest body to the would-be goal scorer running past him to bury the second, a bungling effort in weak side help on the third, and a noble if otherwise hopeless attempt on the fourth (it’s true, watch the tape). If the Union have any real intention of taking three points off on Sunday, it will be because the defense does the job and because Gaddis in particular rebounds from a truly bad performance into one more aligned with his “future Union Ring of Honor inductee” skill.

He may miss this match with an ankle issue, and Fabinho may see more action than he has all season. Either way, it’s an opportunity.

Player to watch: Corey Burke

Corey Burke was one of the main reasons the Union went from being a good-bad team that played attractive soccer but couldn’t score into a maybe-good team that could get points in all manner of matches. He was a ghost on the pitch against Montreal, found the back of the net in Seattle only to have the goal disallowed for offside, and will need to find his form again if the Union are going to win this match and keep their heads above the rising playoff tide.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 1-1

This stretch of matches is brutal for the Union, and no one can blame them for looking ahead at an eminently winnable U.S. Open Cup final in Houston on Wednesday. Couple that with injuries to the team’s two most creative players, Borek Dockal and Ilsinho, and this match feels like a trap. Beyond that, the Union just haven’t ever been good against Kansas City in Chester, and the Sporting side have a Conference championship to play for.

Points are points are points, though, and the Union will take what they can.


  1. And Mark Geiger will be on the field…always good for one or two “really bad, could not come at a worse time” calls per game.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      My prediction: he makes one these early for the Union – maybe a soft PK and we take an early lead. Then for the rest of the game we just wait for the other shoe to drop… “to get Geiger’d”… as it’s often referred to. CAN’T WAIT!! 🙁

  2. “Beyond that, the Union just haven’t ever been good against Kansas City in Chester”. While they’ve historically fared better with games in Kansas, haven’t ever been good is a bit of a stretch given June 23, 2012.

  3. Thinking Ahead The Union 2018- 2019 season. Tough Love and The Union 3.0…….

    I hope the Union win this game and make the playoffs and win the open cup but….its time to be proactive and think ahead. We need to entice the KC coach to COME HOME at the end of this season as GM or Coach. He is a South jersey guy with roots in the Philly area who has managed to put a quality team together consistently for the last several years in a market much smaller than Philly. We needed both better players and coaches to compete post season with the teams ahead of us. There is NO salary cap on coaches or GMs. Lets put some money in upgrading the coach as step 1 for Union Make the announcement that they have hired. Curtin can stay in the organization with less responsibility and a new title. I don’t think too many people will be sad that Curtin is not in charge or has been assigned another job in the oganization. I truly think that Curtins average performnca appraisal in the time he has been here has been a C+ at best.. He has just been mediocore by professional standards. Its just not enough to squeak into the playoffs every 4 or 5 years and lose in the first round of the playoffs. No other professional franchise would accept that record as what you would call a successful coaching record. Its time to start thinking of the Union 3.0 for next year and beyond. That means upgrading the coach and GM to start with. If they have the money they need a true # 1 to add striker along side of Burke. They should be able to do that once Simpsons contract expires. The Union management should also be proactively thinking ahead about who is going to replace Medujian and Ishinio. I like them both but unfortunately they are both apporoaching the “chronic injury phase of their careers”. They need to sign Doakal to a 2 year contract.It will be nice to make the playoffs again but in a market like Philly you should be making a plan with the goal of winning the MLS chamionships.

    • KC may be a smaller market but not in terms of payroll. It sounds like you’re mad at the owner and taking it out on Curtin.

      • Player Salary Difference is minimal. Total Salaries for 2018 for KC was 9.1 million

        Phillys total player salaries were 8.9 million

        Coaching and Player selection made the difference in KC.

        Cant Make big mistakes like Accam and Simpson with your DP choices. That’s one of the reasons the Union could not make a move to get a top striker during the Transfer window. I hope the tall German striker from the 2nd division works out for the Union. We saw what Simson did a s a sub. I will give Curtin credit for letting Burke start and moving CJ outside. It has worked pretty good. Hope the Union make and advance in the playoffs. But as I said KC has been a consistent post season team almost every year under Vermes leadership. Just sayin guys.

    • In addition to A’s astute assessment, the Union have a GM / Sporting Director.
      Honestly, I think if Vermes is going anywhere, it’s going to be as the new coach of the national team. *shrug* Just a wild hunch…

      • A’s astute assement consisted of a misstatement of the facts and assumption that I don’t like Curtin. I am sure he is a nice guy. His vision and tactics are limited.

    • There’s literally zero chance Curtin is replaced, barring losing out the rest
      Of the year and missing the playoffs

  4. Some Union Fans Set their sights way too Low….If you guys are willing to accept permanent mediocrity I feel sorry for you. I am a Union fan who follows other pro sports in this town. No other Philly fan base is willing to accept barely making the playoffs as a goal for their team.

    I am not mad at Curtin. He has limited abilities. Sugarman could hire Vermes if he gave him a nice salary bump. For that matter let him run the whole show coach gm and final say on player moves, Take out a loan on the value of your team and you could hire Vermes. He is one of the few MLS coaches that has a proven successful track record and as I said has ties to the Philly area. It sure is worth a try. Even if says no, What a bunch of nay sayers you guys are. As I said their is NO salary cap on Coaches or GMS. I guess you are also willing to accept the Unions current GM. Who is he? What has he accomplished in the MLS or any high level team? Your attitude about not caring about excellence and accepting what you get is what gives soccer a bad name with many American sports fans. I don’t want to play for ties and hand out participation trophies. I want this team to put the best players and coaches on the field that they can obtain. If you accept mediocrity that is what you will get. I just expect more for my season tickets

  5. “future Union Ring of Honor inductee“ ? That is beyond absurd. Dude has got heart and runs all day but this is the first year they havent actively tried to replace him. Journeymen don’t make rings of honor.

    • So remind me again what precisely you mean by journeyman…. nobody has ever played more games for this team than Ray Gaddis.
      “….for a minute there. I lost myself. I lost myself. Phew, for a minute there… I lost myself.”

  6. santo bevacqua says:

    I am encouraged by Curtin this season, look at the little things the team has been able to do eg short corners, better distribution from the goalie, consistent possession, stringing many passes and controlling midfield play and in general he has used good judgement. A change would be detrimental as Curtin knows the youth and organization very well, this is his team and team like him.

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