Match Preview: Union at Sporting Kansas City, Thursday July 6th, 8:30 PM

The Union try to keep their winning ways going in Kansas City on a short week.

I grew up near the Poconos. There wasn’t a whole lot to do; you had to drive fifteen minutes to get anywhere resembling civilization. To get to Wilkes-Barre (the booming metropolis of 41,000 people the locals referred to as “the city”), you had to drive a half hour while changing roads at least four times. Since there was so little to do, one of the big things to do on Friday nights was to go cruising around Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, which entailed turning left, and then turning left again, and then turning left yet again and so on until you got tired of turning corners and decided to drive the half hour home.

The Union’s season has been like cruising Public Square. It took them a while to get there (nine matches to get their first win), then everyone thought they’d turned the corner when they hammered out four consecutive wins. But no, three more losses came after that. Wow, they really need to turn the corner again. But then two more wins! They’ve turned another corner! And so now, halfway into the season, this is how I suspect the rest of the season will go. It’ll be a series of streaks and slumps, of corners turned, and eventually they’ll miss the playoffs and have to suffer the long drive home.

One of the Union’s problems is talent. They don’t have a dominant outfield force. This is a team that requires a lot of people to have good nights to win; the problem with that is during the grueling MLS season with all the travel and short weeks and injuries, it’s easy for players to slump. If you have a dominant force like a David Villa or a Sebastian Giovinco, you can get away with having an average team performance. The Union can’t. Yes, you can throw out all the cliches about “this team fights for each other” and “they play like a cohesive unit” but the fact is, talent wins matches, which goes a heck of a long way towards putting hardware in the trophy case, of which the Union’s remains conspicuously empty.

Sporting Kansas City has hardware (one of them won against the Union), and has significant outfield talent, and fortunately for the Union, they’ll be missing due to national team duty. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi and forward Dom Dwyer are all in camp with the US Men’s team, while the Union are missing Alejandro Bedoya. Chris Pontius will be joining the national team after this match as well, replacing Kenny Saief due to injury. Expect heavy legs and shifted lineups for both sides in this match.

You can also expect C.J. Sapong to have a little extra pep in his step. Sapong (who leads the Union in goals with nine) spent the first four years of his career in Kansas City, and players often want to stick it to an old team who shuffled them off (whether they like to admit it or not).

Sporting Kansas City has not lost in five matches, with two wins and three draws to their credit on that stretch. They are tied for first in the Western Conference. Even with the missing talent, SKC is hard to beat at home; they haven’t lost a match there yet this year, and the Union won’t change that. A point would be a great result; however, the boys in blue fight valiantly but come up short against a resilient home side.

SKC 2, Union 1