The Philadelphia Union knew trying to contain one of the league’s most potent attacks – on the road – would be a significant challenge.
They also knew the challenge would be even more formidable with the absences of veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón (broken finger) and starting right back Sheanon Williams (concussion), who were among five key Philly players sidelined for Friday’s Eastern Conference showdown against Sporting Kansas City at LIVESTRONG Park.
But rookie ’keeper Zac MacMath, a makeshift backline and the rest of the shorthanded Union battled back to earn a gutsy 1-1 draw and a key point on the road.
“No matter who’s on the field,” MacMath said, “everyone is responsible and capable of putting on a good performance, and we showed that tonight.”
MacMath was especially impressive for the Union (9-7-13), making four saves and really helping out the Philadelphia defense, which was, at times, under siege.
MacMath, making his fourth start in place of the injured Mondragón, came into Friday’s game riding back-to-back shutouts, but his performance against Kansas City was arguably his best of the season, even though he lost his shutout streak.
After the Union tied the game on a Sébastien Le Toux goal in the 63rd minute, MacMath did his best work with a handful of huge stops, including a jumping one-handed save in the final minutes.
“I’m trying to be confident – that’s the best thing for the team,” MacMath said. “It helps me and it helps everyone.”
The rookie ’keeper was also quick to praise his defense, which stayed organized even as Sporting KC aggressively pushed forward. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdés anchored the unit well – as they have all season – and Michael and Gabriel Farfan both had strong games at fullback, although it was Gabriel who was victimized by the dipping cross that led to Sporting’s goal.
Michael Farfan – who started the game in the midfield but quickly switched positions with Kyle Nakazawa to take over at right back – had the assist on Philly’s goal with a crafty play to keep the ball inbounds followed by a crisp pass to Le Toux in the box.
“I thought we did really well,” MacMath said of his backline. “[Sporting] put a lot of pressure on us. They were trying to put crosses in and I thought we dealt with it pretty well. We were unfortunate not to get the shutout.”
In the end, even though the Union failed to move out of their spot in third place, manager Peter Nowak said he was pleased with his team’s effort and performance in what he called a difficult situation. In addition to the absences of Mondragón and Williams, the Union were also without the services of midfielder Justin Mapp (left quad strain), midfielder Freddy Adu (right ankle sprain), and forward Danny Mwanga (right hip strain).
“Regardless of their age and spirits, you have to enter the game with the mentality that you are going to win the game,” Nowak said. “I think today there was a lot of heart.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.