Match: Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
Date: Saturday, August 27
Time: 7:00 PM EST
Venue: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, PA)
Referees: REF: Juan Guzman, AR1: CJ Morgante, AR2: Jason White, 4TH: Mark Kadlecik
Television: The Comcast Network (Philadelphia), KMCI-38 (Kansas City), MLS LIVE
Streaming: MLS Direct Kick, MLS Live
With 8 games left in the Union's 2016 regular season the home stretch is upon us. After beating Columbus Crew SC 2-1 in MAPFRE Stadium, the Union are looking to get a two game win streak going against their Western Conference opponent. For their part, Sporting Kansas City are looking to recover from a 3-0 shellacking they received against from fellow Western Conference foe the Vancouver Whitecaps in the CONCACAF Champions League. Sporting are sitting at fifth place in the Western Conference and are no doubt looking to create some breathing room for themselves before the end of the season.
On paper, this is a match up that the Union should have the ability to dominate. However in the CONCACAF Champions League match, Sporting played a grand total of zero of their starters. Peter Vermes had simply disregarded the CONCACAF match in favor of keeping his players rested for their match up with the Union. Sporting and the Union have played to a 5-4-4 record all time against each other, with a 2-2-2 record in Philadelphia. This will be the first and last time the two teams face each other in the regular season. The last league meeting ended in a 3-2 win for Sporting Kansas City where the Union had a 2-1 lead in the 90th minute and surrendered two goals in stoppage time. This was also the match where Rais M'Bolhi cemented his legendary status as the worst player signing in Philadelphia Union history.
And who can forget the soul-crushing loss to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final in penalties? Try as we might, we can't.
This however is a much different Union team - that Union team had Michael Lahoud, Steven freaking Vitoria, Conor Casey, Cristian Maidana, and Andrew Wenger on its roster. This Union team boasts much better talent on the field.
The fact remains however that Sporting should be entering this match rested, while the Union are coming off of a Wednesday match. Sporting will no doubt be looking to exploit some tired legs, while the Union are going to be attempting to right the ship at Talen Energy Stadium after the embarrassing loss to Toronto FC a week ago. It's also worth mentioning that the Union have not won at home since July 9th with a 3-0 victory against D.C. United. Long story short - playoff teams NEED to have home field advantage and with nearly two months since their last win at home, the Union will need to reassert themselves in front of the Philly faithful.
Sporting will more than likely be playing the same lineup they deployed against Vancouver in the 2-0 regular season win, so expect to get plenty of Benny Feilhaber in the middle with a possibility of Graham Zusi at right back (seriously). Lord of the Rings' Gollum stand in Brad Davis will be looking to provide service to the always dangerous Dom Dwyer. Matt Besler will be in the center getting ready to drape himself all over CJ Sapong and kill off any crosses.
The Union will no doubt be playing the same lineup they played against Columbus, Josh Yaro will more than likely start at center back alongside Richie Marquez. It's a question mark whether Ilsinho will be recovered to take the field, I will lean towards "no" and guess that either Fabian Herbers starts at right wing again, or maybe even Walter Restrepo if Curtin wants to rotate some players out. Tranquillo Barnetta, Alejandro Bedoya and Warren Creavalle will round out the center of the midfield, and Creavalle will have to show that he can shut down the passing of Benny Feilhaber and Roger Espinoza. If Zusi does indeed start at right back again, the Union are more than likely going to go right at him with Chris Pontius and Fabinho leading the attack down his side. If any goals are going to come for the Union, it more than likely will come with either of those two scoring or having a hand in the scoring.
Long story short. This isn't an easy match up for the boys in blue and I wouldn't be surprised if they fall to a more rested and probably prepared Sporting side.