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11/23 FINAL
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11/30 9:20pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: SKC hope to assert East authority vs. Union

KC_PHI_DL

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

A massive game in the Eastern Conference is ahead on FOX Soccer Night in America when Sporting Kansas City play host to Philadelphia Union at Livestrong Sporting Park. The clubs are separated by just a single point in the standings, KC a point behind East leaders Columbus Crew, followed by Philadelphia, in a tie with Houston. Sporting are coming off their first road game in more than two months, a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, while Union put an end to an eight-game winless run with a 1-0 win against Columbus at home.

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REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Fabio Tovar; JAR (opposite): George Gansner; 4th: Juan Guzman
MLS Career: 119 games; FC/gm: 25.0; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 46; pens: 47

INJURY REPORT:
SPORTING KANSAS CITY – OUT: DF Daneil Cyrus (L foot fracture); MF Konrad Warzycha (R knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE: MF Birahim Diop (lower back strain); MF Luke Sassano (R knee sprain); PROBABLE: DF Chance Myers (R foot contusion)
PHILADELPHIA UNION – OUT: GK Faryd Mondragon (R ring finger fracture); GK Thorne Holder (concussion); DF Sheanon Williams (concussion); MF Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); DOUBTBUL: MF Justin Mapp (L quad strain); PROBABLE: FW Veljko Paunovic (L calf strain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES:
none

SUSPENDED:
none

WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD:

KC: Graham Zusi

SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS:
KC: Omar Bravo, Julio Cesar, Aurelien Collin, Birahim Diop
PHI: Danny Califf, Brian Carroll, Danny Mwanga, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

HEAD-TO-HEAD

  • ALL-TIME (3 meetings): Sporting 1 win, 3 goals … Union 0 wins, 1 goal … Ties 2
  • AT KANSAS CITY (1 meeting): Sporting 1 win, 2 goals … Union 0 wins, 0 goals … Ties 0
  • The teams played to a scoreless draw in the first meeting this season, June 22 at PPL Park.
  • Kansas City won their home meeting last season at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, before the teams played to a draw at PPL Park.
  • Coaches' records: Peter Vermes v PHI: P3 W0 L1 D2 … Peter Nowak vs. KC: P13 W6 L3 D4

LAST MEETING (MLS)

  • 6/22: PHI 0, KC 0
  • Union had a season-high 26 attempts at goal, and forced Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to make seven saves on the night, including a pair of stops from close range on Jack McInerney and Carlos Ruiz midway through the first half.
  • Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon was not credited with a single save on the night.

PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-3-1-2): Faryd Mondragon - Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Jordan Harvey - Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Justin Mapp (Roger Torres 78) - Veljko Paunovic (Amobi Okugo 66) - Jack McInerney (Keon Daniel 60), Carlos Ruiz.
SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-3-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Chance Myers, Julio Cesar, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Luke Sassano, Birahim Diop (Stephane Auvray 72) - Kei Kamara, Davy Arnaud, Omar Bravo (Michael Harrington 63) - Teal Bunbury (C.J. Sapong 46).

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

Sporting Kansas City played their first road game in more than two months, going down to a 1-0 defeat by Real Salt Lake on Saturday evening at Rio Tinto Stadium. Sporting have 40 points from 29 matches on the season, in second place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • The game's lone goal came in the 54th minute, when Kyle Beckerman lofted a free kick into the penalty kick and center back Nat Borchers flicked it into the back of the net.
  • Sporting manager Peter Vermes made three changes to the team that rolled to a 3-0 win against the Houston Dynamo at Livestrong Sporting Park. Michael Harrington came in for Chance Myers, and Aurelien Collin and Kei Kamara also returned to the team, in place of Jeferson and Kei Kamara.

SPORTING KANSAS CITY (4-2-3-1): Jimmy Nielsen - Michael Harrington, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic - Julio Cesar (Jeferson 86), Roger Espinoza (Davy Arnaud 81) - Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi, Omar Bravo (C.J. Sapong 69) - Teal Bunbury.

TEAM NEWS

  • The loss was just the third in MLS play since late May – and all three have come against Western Conference clubs currently holding playoff places: Seattle (Aug. 6), Dallas (Aug. 27) and Real Salt Lake.
  • “Especially in the first half, they couldn’t string passes together,” SKC manager Peter Vermes said. “Our guys were closing down the lanes and spaces. When we won it, we moved the ball from side to side, switching the point of attack and getting after them.”
  • It was, of course, the first road game for Sporting since a July 16 trip to Houston, a 1-1 draw. Sporting went 5-2-2 on their MLS-record nine-game homestand.
  • “I thought we did a very good job of coming out after a long homestand, not missing a beat and putting a lot of pressure on them for the better part of the game,” said midfielder Graham Zusi.
  • Sporting were also shut out offensively for the first time since June 22, scoring a goal in 14 consecutive matches. It was the seventh attacking shutout of the season – SKC lost each of the first three by 1-0 scorelines, before playing to three consecutive 0-0 draws.
  • “We were very good in the run of play. I walk away thinking we played very well tonight and could have walked away with something more than zero points,” Vermes said.
  • The Union game starts a two-game home stretch for Sporting; three of their final five games will be at Livestrong Sporting Park.
  • “Obviously the home games were great for us with the atmosphere, but we have to play these games away against good opponents when it comes time for the playoffs,” said Teal Bunbury.
  • The Union game also starts a pair of games against the teams immediately around Sporting in the Eastern Conference table, a point ahead of Philadelphia for second place and a point behind Columbus in first.
  • “We’ve played very well for a long time now,” Vermes said. “I thought we played well again tonight. We’re not going to change a bunch of things. We’re a good team, and we have the ability to play with anyone in this league. We need to do that in these last five games of the season.”

PHILADELPHIA UNION

Philadelphia Union put an end to their winless run at eight games, defeating the Columbus Crew 1-0 on Saturday evening at PPL Park. Union have 39 points from 28 matches on the year, in third place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • The game's only goal came in the 32th minute. Sebastien Le Toux broke free to run onto a brilliant long ball from Roger Torres and beat Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer with a clinical finish from inside the area.
  • Union manager Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that played to a scoreless draw with the Portland Timbers at PPL Park. Gabriel Farfan and Zach Pfeffer came into the side in place of Danny Mwanga and Veljko Paunovic.

PHILADELPHIA UNION (4-2-3-1): Zac MacMath - Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes, Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan - Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan - Roger Torres (Morgan Langley 80), Freddy Adu (Amobi Okugo 75), Zach Pfeffer (Danny Mwanga 63) - Sebastien Le Toux.

TEAM NEWS

  • The win put an end to an eight-game winless streak for Union, their first victory since defeating New England 3-0 on July 17. They went 0-3-5 in that stretch, the longest winless skid in the two-year club history.
  • “It was a tough two months without a win,” said Union manager Peter Nowak. “I think we broke the curse. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
  • Added Union center back Danny Califf: “Certainly we’ve played well enough to win in the course of eight weeks. We felt a bit snakebitten for a while, and to finally get that win – in probably one of the biggest games of club history – is a big relief.”
  • Union rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath has now recorded shutouts in back-to-back games, after allowing four goals in his first professional start, Sept. 7 vs. New England. He was in goal for a victory for the first time against Columbus, after backstopping the scoreless draw vs. Portland.
  • Nowak ran out a team against Columbus that featured seven players 23 years of age or younger.
  • "Someday you have to start this way. We told every guy he deserves the opportunity. The idea was in my head a long time ago to play differently," Nowak said. "I think you could see in practice that these guys were pushing very hard, and they deserved the shot.”
  • Playing as a lone striker in Nowak’s scheme, Sebastien Le Toux scored his sixth goal in the last six games. Philadelphia has scored nine goals in that time.
  • “I like to play with two, usually with Danny [Mwanga] like last year, because we have some good movement together,” Le Toux said. “Playing up top alone was a bit different, but I like it because we have lots of good midfield players between Roger, Freddy, Zach, Brian, and Michael. We do a great job defensively first, then we play quickly first time, taking the space.
  • Nowak gave 16-year-old Zach Pfeffer his first professional start, on the left side of midfield. “I think he was nervous as soon as he saw his name on board. He sensed that he might start a game and during the practice he was very good. He was doing good with the first team. The (63) minutes he played was a good start,” Nowak said.
  • Recently signed 22-year old Morgan Langley also made his league debut, coming in as a second-half substitute along with 20-year-olds Amobi Okugo and Danny Mwanga.
  • “Even though it was a big game, they didn’t play nervous or afraid,” said Califf. “I think that also has to do with Peter’s mentality, putting those guys in, giving them a vote of confidence and saying, ‘Look, I believe in you. I think you guys have it in you and I want to give you a chance to show yourselves on a big stage.’”