First place at stake as Union look to topple Sporting KC
With a huge win over Columbus last Saturday, the Philadelphia Union not only snapped an eight-game winless skid but also positioned themselves right near the top of the Eastern Conference table.
Now, if they can beat Sporting Kansas City on Friday night at Livestrong Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer), the Union can leapfrog both SKC and Columbus and take over sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.
But in trying to win their second game in a row and reclaim the spot atop the table that they held earlier in the season, the Union (9-7-12, 39 points) know they must put their victory over the Crew out of mind and focus on Sporting Kansas City (10-9-10, 40 points) in one of the league’s toughest venues.
“I think the locker room realizes that even though we won the game – which was very important – there is still work that we have to do,” Union manager Peter Nowak said during his weekly press conference. “We have a couple of injuries, a couple of guys missing on the field right now, so the other guys need to step up. The group is trying to help each other and make sure that we cover all angles.
“They are not getting in the mindset that, 'OK, we won one game, now everything is back to normal,' because we have another big game coming up and then another game next Thursday [vs. D.C. United], so I think from this perspective, it’s a very good sign.”
One of the injuries Nowak referred to was a concussion suffered by starting right back Sheanon Williams, which will hurt Philly’s already thin backline. Reserve goalkeeper Thorne Holder is also out for Friday night’s game with a concussion, and with Faryd Mondragón (broken finger) still sidelined, that means the Union will need to dip into the MLS goalkeeper pool to find a suitable backup for starting ’keeper Zac MacMath.
MacMath, meanwhile, is coming off two straight shutouts, but the rookie will have his work cut out for him against a Kansas City squad that has skyrocketed up the Eastern Conference table, thanks in large part to an offense that’s tied for third in the league with 43 goals.
When the two clubs met back in June, though, the Union held Kansas City scoreless in a 0-0 draw – a defensive performance Nowak hopes his team can duplicate in Livestrong Sporting Park.
“They not only push numbers forward but they play pretty high and put pressure on you from the beginning of the game,” Nowak said. “At PPL Park, we did a good job to neutralize that and move the ball through the lines, through the zones and create good chances.”
With Sporting KC looking to push forward, especially at home where they are 7-2-5, Nowak noted how much different Friday’s game will be than this past Saturday’s game against a Columbus squad that he said played it safe.
But the Union hope they can get the same result.
“We cannot sit back and relax, thinking they are not going to come,” Nowak said. “Columbus was trying to sit back and benefit from our mistakes in the midfield and use the fast guys up top to create some chances. So I think, from a tactical standpoint, it will be a completely different game and we have to be aware of that.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.