Friday's Union Game vs Sporting KC has teams looking for a win for completely different reasons. With 5 games remaining each, SKC are 3 points (with a game in hand) behind Supporters Shield and East division leaders NYRB. The Union find themselves on the outside, looking in to the playoff picture - but with only 7 points separating Montreal in 3rd place and Columbus in 8th. In a weekend where Chicago play Montreal, Columbus go against FC Dallas and NE host Houston - it's yet another pivotal weekend in MLS action. A win may catapault the Union back into the playoffs. A loss could see us too far behind to catch up. A draw may be of no use to either side. While Hackworth may not be playing this off as must win, and in truth it isn't yet - we aren't far away from that time.
The Union are coming off a bye week, not having played since the disappointing result against Houston. SKC had a game last week in Toronto - scraping by with a 2-1 win. Overall in the last month, SKC are in far better form than the Union, who have only scored 1 (or 3?) goals in the last 5 games. This dip in form has led to the Unions slide out of the playoff race, and Coach Hackworth will hope that the week off will return the Union back to the kind of form on the road that has allowed the Union to pick up first wins in Colorado and Vancouver, as well as a first point at Red Bull Arena.
In the past - the Union have struggled against SKC. In year 1 - a 2-0 loss in Kansas was followed up by a 1-1 draw, with Seitz giving up a soft goal. 2011 saw 2 draws, and in 2012 on the way to their US Open cup victory, SKC won 2-0 at PPL, and then followed that up with a 2-1 win at home in the league. The sole Union victory came in Hackworths 2nd game in charge, a 4-0 thrashing at PPL park. Earlier this year, a strong start in the first half against SKC had the Union 1-0 up as returning hero LeToux got his season off to a great start. More goals should have came, but a Zusi goal before half time changed the momentum, and from then on there was only 1 winner, SKC walking away with a 3-1 win.
Revenge will be on the Unions minds, who won't want to make it 4 losses in a row against, all be it, a very good team. The break should have allowed the Union to regroup, recover from the normal aches and pains of a long season, and be ready for the game. From Hackworths press conference on Wednesday, LeToux is a doubt with a foot issue, and Keon Daniel has a groin problem. Both are likely to be fit however. SKC are going to be without Nagamura, and Rosell/Besonne are listed as questionable.
The Union can go about things 2 ways. 1) Stick to the normal lineup, Casey up front or 2) Go all out speed agianst an SKC team that have been troubled by our speed in the past (4-0 last year, 1st half this year). However, i can't see Hackworth not playing Casey, so my predicted lineup is :- (4-2-3-1)
MacMath (gk); Williams (rb), Okugo (cb), Parke (cb), Gaddis (lb); Carroll (dcm), Daniel (dcm); Cruz (rw), LeToux (cam), Fabinho (lw); Casey (st). bench - Hoppenot, Farfan, Mcinerney, Lahoud, Wheeler, Albright, Nikolov.
This will allow the pace of Williams, Cruz, LeToux, Gaddis to go at SKC, and have that target man for Fabinho's crosses.
Key Matchups :-
1) Casey vs Collin - Big guy vs Big guy, expect lots of niggly pushing/pulling and even some off-ball jostling. For the Union to be successful, Casey has to stay in the middle and win this battle, allowing LeToux to get on the end of his knock-downs.
2) Carroll vs Zusi - many believe (as i do) that Zusi is one of the best "#10s" in the league. He tore us apart in the first game, and only a classy performance by Carroll will stop him doing the same in this game. If we stop Zusi dictating the play - maybe we have a chance.
3) Okugo vs Sapong - Sapong has scored SKC's last 3 goals, so is the obvious danger man up front for SKC. Okugo has had an excellent first full season in defense, but this isn't an easy game for him.
Win those 3 key battles, maybe the Union scrape out of here with a 1-1 draw or 1-0 win. However, i think SKC will have too many weapons at their disposal in this game, especially at home. I'm going with 2-0 to SKC, and more pressure on the Union for the next 2 winnable games. P.s. the referee is Ricardo Salazar, so i also predict some headscratching referee decisions that we can blame any loss on.