Despite looking absolutely horrible for the first 60 minutes, the Philadelphia Union managed to steal a point on the road with a 1-1 draw against Sporting Kansas City.
Union Starting XI: McCarthy; Wijnaldum, Onyewu, Elliott, Gaddis; Medunjanin, Jones; Picault, Ilsinho, Pontius; Sapong
Sporting KC Starting XI: Melia; Sinovic, Palmer-Brown, Opara, Abdul-Salaam; Medranda, Ilie, Feilhaber; Salloi, Rubio, Blessing
It initially looked like a lopsided matchup. Sporting KC are the first place team in the Western Conference and unbeaten at home. The Union are under the playoff red line in the Eastern Conference. But this match was just before the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup break, and both teams had players to contribute to national teams. In SKC’s case, they lost forward Dom Dwyer and defenders Graham Zusi and Matt Besler to US Men’s National Team duty. The Union had to give up midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and goalkeeper Andre Blake to the USA and Jamaica national teams, respectively.
Besides the national team call-ups, SKC was also without midfielder Roger Espinoza due to yellow card accumulation. And leading scorer Gerso Fernandes was on the bench due to a shoulder injury. If there was ever a chance that the Union could sneak into Kansas City and leave with a result, this was it.
Did the Union seize that opportunity? If you only watched the first 60 the answer was a big “No.” Sporting KC completely dominated possession and earned plenty of corner kicks. It was only because of the stellar play of goalkeeper John McCarthy and center back Jack Elliott that the Union managed to keep the game scoreless for the first half.
It wasn’t long into the second half when SKC finally scored the goal that everyone watching game knew was coming. In his first start of the season, Diego Rubio fired a bullet from 19 yards out to give SKC a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute. McCarthy didn’t have a chance on that one.
Things didn’t get any better until Jim Curtin made his usual 60th-minute substitutions. He replaced Ilsinho with Roland Alberg and Chris Pontius (who will be joining the USMNT after this match) with Marcus Epps.
Alberg immediately changed the game. The Union started getting chances, which culminated in a penalty call when Benny Feilhaber knocked down C.J. Sapong in the box in the 67th minute. Alberg converted the PK, and suddenly the Union were back in the game.
McCarthy did his best Andre Blake impersonation and came up with a couple more big saves after that, and Union managed to hold off their hosts for the rest of the game. Considering they were on the road and considering how wretched the boys in blue looked for most of the game, this is a draw that feels like a win.
The Union will now get a chance to rest and recharge their batteries during the Gold Cup break before going back on the road to take on the Montreal Impact on July 19.