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Match preview: Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

Who: Philadelphia Union (2-0-3) vs Sporting Kansas City (0-2-3)

What: MLS Regular Season, Matchday 6

Where: Subaru Park, Chester, Pennsylvania

When: Saturday, April 1st, 7:30pm

Watch: Apple TV (MLS Season Pass)

Whistle: Victor Rivas; Matthew Nelson, Brian Poeschel, Marcos DeOliveira; Jorge Gonzalez, Chantal Boudreau


The Philadelphia Union look to end their current 2 game losing streak when they welcome Sporting Kansas City to Subaru Park on Saturday evening.

This will be Sporting KC’s first visit to Chester since September 2018, and will be the two sides first meeting since the quarterfinals of the the MLS is Back tournament in 2020.

Sporting KC’s last win in Chester game in 2015 in the US Open Cup, winning on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

These two side have played 20 times, with both teams winning 7 matches each, with the other 6 matches ending in draws.

Scouting Report: Sporting Kansas City

The 2023 season has gotten off to a dreadful start for Kansas City.  They are winless in their first five matches and have found the net only twice (despite having the second most shots and shots on target in MLS).

For Kansas City, the 2023 season is beginning to feel similar to 2022, when Sporting began the year 2-5-0 and ultimately missed the playoffs despite a strong second half of the season.

“We do not have a lot of time left this season,” Kansas City captain Johnny Russell said speaking to press this week.  “There’s a lot of games left, but we can’t get into that mindset where we feel we’ve got time because, as we saw last year, time runs out very quickly in this league.”

Although Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes has said he doesn’t view this weekend’s match against Philadelphia as a must-win, coming away with a result on the road would be most welcome as his team looks to turn the tide on it’s 2023 season.

Kansas City has had to deal with several injuries in the early stages.  Captain Johnny Russell had been dealing with a hamstring since the team’s final preseason match and finally saw action last week, coming off the bench in Kansas City’s 1-4 home loss against Seattle. After missing all of 2022 with a knee injury, winger Alan Pulido was on the bench last week, but didn’t see any action.  Fullbacks Tim Leibold and Logan Ndenbe have each been dealing with hamstring injuries, and midfielder Gadi Kinda has yet to see the field in 2023.

To make matters worse for Saturday, starting left back Ben Sweat picked up a red card last week against Seattle and is suspended for this week’s match.

All that makes for difficult decisions for Peter Vermes and his usual 4-3-3 formation.

Veteran center-back Andreu Fontas will likely start alongside second-year Robert Voloder, with long-time veteran Graham Zusi starting at right-back.

The first option replacement for Sweat is midfielder Cam Duke, who is somewhat of a jack of all trades, and who appeared to fill in at left-back last week after Sweat picked up his red card.

Look for Roger Espinoza, now in his 14th season for Kansas City, to start as the right midfielder, with Erik Thommy out left, and the Frenchman Remi Walter playing centrally.

Through the first five matches, the attacking three has been left winger Daniel Sallloi, center forward William Agada and right winger Khiry Shelton.  If deemed fully fit, Johnny Russell may return to his starting position as right winger.

Injury Report: Nemanja Radoja (Questionable – Quad), Tim Leibold (Probable – Hamstring), Logan Ndenbe (Questionable – Hamstring), Gadi Kinda (Out – Knee), Kortne Ford (Out – Achilles)

Suspension Report: Ben Sweat (Red Card – 3/25)

Scouting Report: Philadelphia Union

The Union are looking to avoid a 3-game skid after being dealt their second loss in a row last week, at home against Orlando City (1-2 loss).

The home loss also ended the Union’s impressive streaks of 13 consecutive home wins and 24 matches unbeaten at home.

Fortunately for head coach Jim Curtin, several key players will be available for selection this Saturday after missing last week’s match due to the international break.

Perhaps most importantly is defensive midfielder Jose Martinez, whose absence Saturday was most notable.  In his stead at the No. 6 on Saturday was Leon Flach, whom never looked comfortable, neither individually nor in connection with the central defenders behind him.  Martinez’s stout defense, along with the chemistry that he has built with central defenders Jakob Glesnes and Jack Elliot, is invaluable to this team’s success.

Also returning from international duty is central-attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag, who was brought on as a substitute in Hungary’s friendly against Estonia last Thursday.  Gazdag, coming off of his MVP caliber season in 2022, has 2 goals (both penalties) and 2 assists thus far in MLS play.

Midfielders Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan and defenders Oliver Mbaizo and Damien Lowe will also be returning from international duty, while forward Julian Carranza will be returning from his red card suspension.

Even with the long list of  absences last week, Jim Curtin rolled out his usual 4-4-2 diamond formation.  With most of his normal starters available for selection, the diamond will be most likely be utilized again on Saturday.

Despite all of those players returning, there remains two big questions marks for Saturday’s match: goalkeeper Andre Blake and left-back Kai Wagner,

Andre Blake has not played since picking up a groin injury back on March 11th against Chicago.  The club site states that he is on track to be available for Saturday’s game, but the team will certainly not want to rush Blake back into action at this stage of the season if he is not completely healthy.

Kai Wagner was being examined for a hamstring injury midweek, and his availability for Saturday is in question.  Should he not be available for selection, defender Matt Real (who came off the bench on Saturday) could slot in as his replacement or Nathan Harriel (who started at right back on Saturday) could shift to the left side while Mbaizo plugs back in as the starting right-back.

Injury Report: Andre Blake (Groin – Questionable), Kai Wagner (Hamstring – Questionable)

Suspension Report: None

Player to Watch: Jack Elliott

Elliott had arguably his worst game for the Union on Saturday.  Jose Martinez’s absence at the No. 6 was a contributing factor, but he was caught out of position often and was errant with his distribution.  A huge area of concern for the Union thus far has been defending.  In the four matches Philly has given up goals this year, they have allowed a goal inside the first ten minutes twice and allowed a goal in the first 32 minutes in all four games.  A match-up against a struggling Kansas City offense is a perfect opportunity, for both Elliot and the entire Union back line, to right the ship.

Match-Up to Watch:  Left Backs vs Right Wings

If Kai Wagner is available to start then this is less of a concern of concern for the Union.  But if he is unavailable and Johnny Russell is available to start at his usual right-wing position, there could be a mismatch for Kansas City to exploit. Conversely, the Union will look to attack down the right side and attack whomever is filling in for starting left-back Ben Sweat.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 2 – 1 Kansas City

This is as good a matchup as the Union could’ve asked for to turnaround their early season struggles and get 3 points.



  1. pragmatist says:

    I want Blake back badly, but I hope he sits this week. Give him one more week off to make sure he is fully fit. We need him for the rest of the season, and we need him 100%.
    Last week can be written off with so many pieces missing. But this week doesn’t have excuses. This needs to be a win that is much more comfortable than the 2-1 prediction. I’ll take a comfortable 3-1 win, but would love to see the team get a shutout on the board. The defense needs that confidence-builder to help them remember who they are.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      The watch-o-meter thing mls soccer dot com does predicted “this game could have a lot of goals”. Let’s hope they’re all ours.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Against a team that only has 2 goals so far, the Union need a shut out to build the defense’s confidence.

  3. Read Tannenwald’s preview stories and was surprised that (1) I was at that last game at home against Sporting to see Jay Simposon’s goals. I remember my state of shock and (s) that Jonathan’s editor (if he has one?) didn’t pick up the mistake that the meeting was in 2018, not 2019. (Not beating up on JT, he does a great job and everyone need’s an editor’s help. Given the state of newspapering, he probably doesn’t have as much as he should.)

    I’m also hoping his 2-2 final score prediction is off the mark. We need to get that backline locked down. Can’t go conceding goals at home all over the place. I’d like a nice, tidy 2 – 0 win, please.

  4. If there is any game this season where we can score 6 goals, this is it. 6-0. Doop.

  5. Chris Gibbons says:

    Wild to me that Espinoza and Zusi are still playing. I don’t watch the West at all – but it seems like they’ve both been at it for a long time.

  6. It’s going to be a messy, wet and windy game with high chance of delayed start if the weather predictions are accurate. Looks like >80% chance of rain (possible thunderstorms) at 7:30 with 20-25mph winds. Rain chance drops quickly but wind stays strong.

    • Deez Nuggs says:

      So far all our home games have been frigid, rainy, or both.
      Any idea how to find out about a delay before showing up to the stadium? If I don’t have to wait in the car or under the stands, that would be better.

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