Match #29 Preview: Philadelphia Union At Sporting Kansas City

CHESTER, PA - JUNE 22: Roger Torres #8 of the Philadelphia Union is tackled from behind by Matt Besler #5 of Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park on June 22, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The game ended 0-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Setting: Friday, September 23 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas; kickoff scheduled for 8:36:30 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: Fox Soccer (JP Dellacamera, Kyle Martino, Brian Dunseth) and Fox Deportes (Jorge Caamaño, Alejandro Luna) nationally as 'Soccer Night in America', with coverage beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / La Gran D 1340 KDTD-AM (Raul Villegas, Enrique Morales) in Kansas City

Kansas City's Record: 10-9-10, second in East

Kansas City's Last Match: L, 1-0 at Real Salt Lake

Philadelphia vs. Kansas City This Season: 0-0-1 (Kansas City 0 @ Philadelphia 0 on June 22)

For the Kansas City Perspective, Visit The Daily Wiz

After snapping an eight match winless drought this past weekend against Columbus, the Philadelphia Union travel to shiny new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park for the first time to take on Sporting Kansas City in another match that has major implications on the Major League Soccer playoff race. Philadelphia sits one point behind Sporting in the standings, but has one match in hand, and a Union win combined with a Columbus loss could see them back in first place. Kansas City have proven to be a very tough nut to crack in their new confines, though, amassing a 7-2-5 record at home thus far in 2011.

The Union face a rather big injury blow as well, as Sheanon Williams has suffered a concussion, and a definite timetable for his recovery is unclear (as it tends to be for head injuries). Williams has been a spark plug for Philadelphia, both offensively and defensively, and he will be sorely missed by the team. The Union have a couple of options to replace him, but it seems just as likely as anything that Michael Farfan will slot into Williams's position as he has done a few times this season. Sporting has one of the top offenses in the league, and with Faryd Mondragon already out due to injury, the last thing the Union needed was another blow to their backline. But those are the breaks, so to speak, and Piotr Nowak and company will have to try and deal with them appropriately.

Kei Kamara, Teal Bunbury, Omar Bravo and Graham Zusi headline Kansas City's offensive numbers, and with names like that, plus the emerging C.J. Sapong, it's not tough to see how Sporting were able to survive their incredibly long season opening road trip while the finishing touches were made on their new facility, and put themselves in a position to make the playoffs thanks to some luck and good form at home (just ask Philadelphia how tough it was to not play a true home match until June). Make no mistake that while Jimmy Nielsen can steal points at any given time against any given team, it has been their scoring touch -- something Philadelphia has so desperately lacked at times -- that has kept them afloat, not their defensive play. If an injury-riddled Union backline can keep Sporting from running them over, there's no reason why a resurgent Sebastien Le Toux can't lead his team to a crucial road result.

Projected starters, up-to-date injury reports and assorted notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes, Califf (C), M. Farfan; Carroll; Le Toux, Adu, Torres; Mwanga, Paunovic

Kansas City: Nielsen; Sinovic, Besler, Collin, Harrington; Cesar, Zusi, Espinoza; Sapong, Bunbury, Kamara

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, as mentioned above, Sheanon Williams is unavailable after suffering a concussion. Current second-string keeper Thorne Holder has also suffered a concussion; it is Holder's second of the year. Faryd Mondragon remains out as his right ring finger rehabs, as is Levi Houapeu, who is on injured reserve with a left ankle strain. Justin Mapp's availability for tomorrow's match is "doubtful" thanks to a left quad strain, while Veljko Paunovic is listed as "probable" despite a left calf strain.

For Kansas City, Daneil Cyrus and Konrad Warzycha are both unavailable thanks to a left foot fracture and right knee surgery, respectively. Birahim Diop and Luke Sassano are both listed as "questionable" due to a lower back strain and a right knee sprain, respectively. Chance Myers is considered "probable" despite a right foot contusion.

Of note:

  • Baldomero Toledo is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In 119 MLS matches, Toledo has called an average of 25 fouls per match, handed out an average of between three and four yellow cards per match, given a total of 46 red cards and has awarded a total of 47 penalty kicks.
  • Graham Zusi is one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation.
  • Since Thorne Holder, the current backup to Zac MacMath, will not be available to play following his concussion, it's likely that the league will send a pool goaltender out to Kansas City to suit up for the Union. The current MLS pool goalkeepers are Kevin Guppy, Chris Konopka and Chris Sharpe.
  • Eleven of Kansas City's 37 goals against (~30%) have come in the final fifteen minutes of matches. In comparison, three of Philadelphia's 30 goals against (10%) have come in the final fifteen minutes of matches.
  • Kansas City's defensive play can be highly erratic. Their 37 goals against is a middle-of-the-pack number, but they have conceded three or more goals on five different occasions. Again, in comparison, Philadelphia still hasn't given up more than two goals in an MLS match this season.
  • Kansas City is 1-5-3 when level at halftime, which seems surprisingly poor.
A nationally televised match with major implications for the Eastern Conference, and truly for all MLS teams chasing a playoff spot? Sounds like a good time. Can the Union potentially come away with a season-defining result, or will Sporting send the Union back into a slide? Hope you can join us for a gamethread!
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