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Jim Curtin heaps praise on Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara

Sporting Kansas City will be missing several key players on Thursday, but not their star center back

MLS: Sporting KC at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

When the Philadelphia Union take on Sporting Kansas City on the road tomorrow night, they’ll face the stingiest defense in Major League Soccer.

And while two of their regular defenders - center back Matt Besler and right back Graham Zusi - are away on international duty, a defender Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin says has been among the league’s best at any position will still make life difficult for the visitors.

“I’ve watched every Kansas City game and Ike Opara for me is playing at an MVP type of level,” Curtin said after training Wednesday in Chester. “His one-v-one defending and winning his duels, he’s been really impressive. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a center back but he’s having a really good year.”

The eighth-year pro out of Wake Forest also has four goals in all competitions this season, including a beautiful overhead strike against LA Galaxy last month.

“He’s the kind of guy you watch on restarts and you almost want to put two players on him and that’s something we’re actually considering,” Curtin said.

SKC has conceded just 13 times in 19 games, four fewer than the second place team in that category, Chicago Fire.

Curtin credited their head coach, Delran, N.J. native Peter Vermes and the system he has in place for them being so difficult to break down.

“Thirteen goals against is a pretty amazing number,” Curtin said. “When you do get your looks you have to be clinical.”

Other notes from Wednesday’s training

-Happy with how team defended against New England and the work players are putting in on the defensive side. “That defense is leading to our offensive success as well,” Curtin said.

-Gerso Fernandes is possibly injured, Roger Espinoza is suspended, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer are with U.S. team for Gold Cup. “Yes they are going to be missing a few key players, but so are we. So the challenge is there. Peter Vermes has assembled an incredibly strong defensive group with a lot of depth. They lead the league in goals against and it’s no coincidence that puts them at the top of their conference.”

-John McCarthy will start. “We tried to squeeze another game out of (Andre Blake) but had to abide by the rules and let him go with Jamaica,” Curtin said.

-Jack Elliott’s MRI was negative and will be available for selection, Fabian Herbers had a good week of training and is pushing to get back into the 18, Warren Creavalle is inching closer could get a game with Bethlehem Steel.