The where: Sporting Park, Kansas City KS.
The when: Sunday April 5th at 7pm (Live on Fox Sports 1).
Unless you have had your head buried in the sand you will know what a tough start to the season it has been for the Philadelphia Union. A lackluster draw at home to Colorado Rapids, an enthralling if poorly played game at Rio Tinto followed by frustrating back to back losses that has seen the team rack up red cards instead of scoring goals. Looking at the schedule a trip to a place like Sporting Park to take on Sporting KC isn't exactly what you would want to see. However, maybe it is exactly what the Union need to kickstart their season.
In terms of the overall head to head record, Philadelphia have won 4, drawn 4 and lost 4 in the league added to a loss in the US Open cup semi final. That is against a team that has won the MLS cup and been consistently in the playoffs in recent years which is a pretty good record for a Philadelphia team that has struggled. Even more surprising is that the Union have not lost an away game in Kansas for the past 2 seasons (2 wins and a draw). For some reason they are able to go there and grind out results, probably by mostly hitting on the counter attack. Who can forget this fantastic Danny Cruz moment from last season when after Cruz scored the whole team went to celebrate with under pressure coach John Hackworth.
The team News:
As for this time around, after a somewhat slow start, Sporting are starting to pick up the pace in their new division, and recently beat newcomers New York City FC to record their first win of the season. They will be hoping to add to the misery of the Union faithful by starting a win streak to take them into playoff spots. There was some good news for the Union with the hamstring injury to Graham Zusi, a player who often gives the team fits.
Zusi did not train today. He will be out this weekend.
— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) March 31, 2015
Also missing from the game for SKC is long term injury sufferer Chance Myers (Achilles rupture) and forward Krisztian Nemeth.
Philadelphia also have their injury woes, with Cristian Maidana and Sheanon Williams both at least a week away from returning and the unlikely scenario of CJ Sapong being healthy to face his former team with his concussion issues. When you add in the suspensions of Zach Pfeffer and Fred, it's going to be a thinly spread 18 for Philadelphia. I would guess the lineup will be the same that started against Chicago (Rais M'Bolhi, Raymon Gaddis, Ethan White, Steven Vitoria, Fabinho; Maurice Edu, Michael Lahoud, Vincent Nogueira; Sebastien Le Toux, Andrew Wenger; Fernando Arsitegueita). Going to Kansas City is a difficult trip and Jim Curtin should look to go with experience instead of blooding the youngsters in this one. There are some games against New York City FC in quick succession to give some players a rest and let others stake their claim for a permanent starting spot.
My keys to the game:
Instead of key matchups, there are some things the Union are going to need to do to get something from this game Most important are :-
1) Mark Ike Opara on set plays.
Opara has scored 66.7% of his teams goals this year. The Union have been very generous giving simple chances from set piece plays and it has cost them. They need to figure this out before Sunday, or Opara may be giving his fantasy team managers plenty of points.
2) Sebastien Le Toux needs to wake up.
In recent interviews it has been mentioned how tough Sebastien is taking his poor start to the season. Lets hope that he can get going on Sunday. There should be a lot of space to run into if the Union play counter attacking soccer. If Seba can get back on track and in form, not only will it be a lift for Sunday but for the rest of the season.
3) Stop Benny Feilhaber.
Benny is a player Union fans love to hate. With no Zusi, it may fall on the shoulders of Feilhaber to create the chances that he will hope Dom Dwyer will score from. If Philadelphia go out with both Lahoud and Maurice Edu on the field then there will hopefully be enough talent to stop the supply.
Another common theme to the Philadelphia Union season so far has been the man in the middle. This time, it is Ismail Elfath. So far, Elfath has not shown a red card in his 2 games. With the Union having been involved in games with three red cards so far, lets hope that it is the lack of red cards that continues. If there is a red card shown, let it be for the home team.
Unfortunately I can't see the Union getting anything from this game unless they can hold out for a 0-0 draw. My prediction is another loss, 2-0 to Sporting (and hopefully I have just jinxed it)