Photo: Frank Fimmano

Photo: Frank Fimmano

Match Preview: Union vs Sporting KC, Sunday September 23rd at 1 PM

The Philadelphia Union return home to take on Western Conference leader Sporting Kansas City in a Sunday afternoon match.

It’s late September and the Union are in the thick of the playoff chase. If anyone had told me that this would be the case back in July, I would have said “You are out of your mind.” But it’s true!

Thanks to Fafa Picault’s clutch stoppage time goal in Seattle on Wednesday night, the Union are sitting pretty, just one point below fourth place Columbus in the standings. With a win on Sunday and another in Columbus next weekend, the boys in blue will be in the driver’s seat for hosting a home game in the knockout round of the MLS playoffs. Not just making the playoffs, but giving Union fans an extra home game to enjoy.

It’s crazy; I can hardly wrap my head around it. Back when C.J. Sapong was the starting striker, yet failing to score in any game, it seemed ridiculous that the Union would be in a position to compete for the MLS Cup. Yet here we are.

And, oh yeah, they’re playing in the U.S. Open Cup final next week too.  The Phillies’ ship may be sinking, but the Union are going full steam ahead.

The win on Wednesday was nice not just for the bump in the standings, but for the flexibility it gives head coach Jim Curtin as he ponders what his lineup will be. With sixth-place Montreal four points under the U, this is not a must-win. Which is good, because Sporting KC is not an easy team to beat, with only seven losses in 28 matches played.

Normally, when playing a team like SKC, it would be all hands on deck. You can’t put out the B team and expect to win. But in this match, no one would really question it if Curtin did just that. Because the U.S. Open Cup final is on Wednesday in Houston, and you definitely want your A team with fresh legs for that.

Will we see Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medujanin out there? Is Borek Dockal recovered from his ankle injury? If so, does Curtin rest him anyway? Is Anthony Fontana fit enough to fill in the number 10 position? Do you go full B team, and trot out Fabian Herbers, Jay Simpson, Marcus Epps, David Accam, Richie Marquez, and/or Olivier Mbaizo so guys like Picault, Sapong, Cory Burke, Auston Trusty, and Keegan Rosenberry get a rest? So many questions to be answered. One question we aren’t asking: will Jack Elliott get a rest? The answer is yes, since he is suspended for this match due to yellow card accumulation.

Sporting KC doesn’t have a U.S. Open Cup final to worry about. They will come in wanting to stay in first place and get that first round playoff bye that comes with it. SKC’s head coach, Delran native Peter Vermes, won’t likely be putting in his scrubs. He has guys that can score in Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell, and recently acquired striker Krisztian Nemeth. Any combination of these players will be a challenge to defend.

Sporting KC is no slouch on defense either, with guys like Ike Opara, Matt Besler, and Graham Zusi in the back. Goalkeeper Tim Melia is one of the best in the league. This is a team that is tough to score on.

Considering the strength of the opponent, favorable positioning in the standings, and the need for a rested squad for the big U.S. Open Cup final, I’d be willing to write this one off and just go with a total B team. I don’t think Curtin will do that though. I think we’ll see a couple of guys rested, but we’ll see some regular starters out there too. It won’t be enough to win, but this isn’t the match that matters. That comes on Wednesday. Prediction: Sporting Kansas City 3, Union 1.