Lady Luck can be ever fickle.
As bad as they had been playing, the Union were all a bit unlucky to have managed a meager one goal in five previous matches. Few teams are ever that bad over the course of a full season.
The Union did not play well tonight. The Union were clearly the inferior team tonight. But the Union were also the luckier team tonight. And with some easier games upcoming the Union, that sliver of luck may have just bought them a second chance at earning a playoff berth.
The Union opened the game in a disastrously thought out 4-2-3-1, consisting of Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud in the all-important midfield pivot, Fabinho, Michael Farfan, and Danny Cruz in the attacking band, and Casey up top as the lone striker. That's right, John Hackworth's non-desperate attempt at changing things up involved putting Lahoud in the most important area of the pitch. It should have never ever worked, and really, considering how easy Sporting got through the midfield it did not work. The object of the 4-2-3-1 is to control the midfield. What happened instead is Sporting overran the midfield for most of the game. Their poor finishing was unable to take advantage of the huge tactical advantage Hackworth gave them.
Sporting Kansas City gained the majority of the high quality chances in the first half, the first of which came when Benny Feilhaber launched a free kick at Zac MacMath only for MacMath to make the stop before colliding with the post.
In the 25th minute, Sporting Kansas City did their best to take advantage of Lahoud in the double pivot, and did they ever. Feilhaber danced around a hapless Lahoud, passing the ball to C.J. Sapong as Feilhaber made his run unmarked. Sapong's pass was slightly off though, giving MacMath an opportunity to make a stop and put an end to the scoring chance, bailing out Lahoud and the midfield.
Sporting had another opportunity a few minutes later but once again MacMath would save the day. Graham Zusi created space for himself and fired a shot from the top of the box, but MacMath tipped it over the bar and put an end to the danger.
The Union amazingly struck first in this match. After getting run around by Sporting for the first 35 minutes, it was the Union who would get the game's only goal. A wayward Sporting pass found Lahoud who linked up with Cruz on the right flank. Cruz fantastically got around Ike Opara, sending it into the box where Fabinoho latched onto it and fired a shot that was stopped by Jimmy Nielson. However, Nielson could not rid the danger, left a juicy rebound, and Cruz slammed it home to give the Union an improbable 1-0 lead on the road at Sporting Park.
The second half saw Sporting Kansas City continue to dominate the bulk of possession and chances and run of play. Of both sides, Sporting continually looked like the side closer to breaking through but the finishing was always lacking. The Union's counter-attacking opportunities were sparse, and if Sporting had just been able to convert on one or two of the plethora of opportunities the Union gave them, the game would have seen a much different story. That, combined with MacMath's solid workman like performance, proved to be the difference in the outcome.
The closest Sporting Kansas City got came in the 51st minute. Chance Myers crossed to Dominic Dwyer who had a wide open header but missed the net completely and sent the ball out of play for a goal kick instead. It was a chance that well represented the futility of Kansas's finishing throughout the entire match.
The game ended on a Sporting Kansas City free kick. Zusi sent a long free kick into the box that latched onto the head of Aurelien Collin who could only direct it toward MacMath before the final whistle sounded, cementing the Union's shocking 1-0 victory over Sporting.
The win has Philadelphia scoreboard watching tomorrow's New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact games, the results of which could also drastically impact the Union's playoff chances heading into the final month of the regular season. Next up for the Union is a home match against Toronto F.C. the Union at this point can ill-afford to lose. With the Impact and Sporting coming up in the last two games of the season, the Union are going to be best off banking the points they can against Toronto and then D.C. United. The Toronto game can be seen on October 5 at 7:30 PM on TCN.