Philadelphia Union absorb Sporting Kansas City's pressure to earn key point

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Road point against the Western Conference leaders, with two key starters on Gold Cup duty and the stat sheet running hard in the other direction?

After the dust cleared on Thursday night's 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City, the Philadelphia Union couldn’t be happier.

“It’s very big,” said forward C.J. Sapong, who drew the foul that set up Roland Alberg’s 69th-minute equalizer from the penalty spot. “Personally, I’m very proud of my teammates. I think this was a game where I personally feel like I didn’t provide my team with the things that I usually do. I feel like even when we were getting battered and had the pressure on us, we stayed true.

“We stayed connected. We stayed with each other.”

Sporting held 64 percent of the possession, outshot the visitors 19-8 and had a 14-3 edge on corner kicks, nine of those in the first half. Still, thanks to three saves before the break from John McCarthy – filling in while Andre Blake is with the Jamaican national team at the Gold Cup – Philadelphia were able to get to the locker room without conceding.

“Kansas City came at us in the first half,” said coach Jim Curtin, who also was without midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (with the US national team) for Tuesday’s match. “They were the better team, for sure, on the whole night – but our guys stuck with it. They fought hard.”

And in the waning minutes, with Sporting pressing for a winner, the Union had several chances to break out on the counter and try to snap Kansas City’s unbeaten home streak – now at 19 matches after the draw – in MLS play.

“As crazy as it sounds, at the end, we maybe had a couple of chances to steal all three, with some of the breaks we had and with them pushing numbers forward,” Curtin said. “But overall, on a night when it wasn’t our best soccer-wise – we didn’t play the best soccer – we rolled up our sleeves, and did fight, and came back and got a point.”

Though he was beaten on Diego Rubio’s stunning strike from distance in the 49th minute, McCarthy – who had a scary moment in the first half when his left knee got stuck in as he went to ground against Sporting’s Latif Blessing – was a big reason that the Union were able to get out of Children’s Mercy Park with a point. He finished with six saves on the night, including a one-handed reaction parry of Daniel Salloi’s blast from outside the arc in the 28th minute.

The key to his big game?

“Staying calm and not getting ahead of myself,” he said. “It’s really easy to get all excited and hyped up in these situations, so I just tried to keep myself as calm as possible and keep the guys in front of me calm.

“We knew when we came back for the second half that it was a fresh slate for us, still 0-0. We knew we had to change our mindset and change the way we were playing, and I think we did better than the first half. It’s a big-time point.”