Union fall to Sporting Kansas City in season opener despite dominant first half effort

Union miss on plethora of chances in season opener

It started off as a storybook beginning for the Union, but the tale didn’t end with the hook many hoped for in the season opener at PPL Park.

A dominant first half effort and a thrilling last half hour still amounted to a 3-1 loss at home against two-time defending Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City. The storybook reference came from the fact that the Union got on the scoreboard first behind a goal from forward Sebastien Le Toux. Le Toux pounced on a cross from midfielder Keon Daniel in the 17th minute to fittingly open his scoring account for Philadelphia. Le Toux, ranks as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer and returned to the club during the offseason amid an effort to pack both experience and scoring prowess to the Union roster.

However, despite an onslaught of chances for the Union, it was Sporting who capitalized on its few, as Graham Zusi scored off a rebound from Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath in the 41st, and provided an assist on a goal from midfielder Uri Rosell in the 66th. In the 83rd, Sporting forward Claudio Bieler capped the match, after defender Chance Myers found the designated player just inside the 18-yard-box.

“Everything we thought we could take advantage of worked and it didn’t just work for a couple minutes it worked for almost the first half,” said Union manager John Hackworth. “If we executed on the chances that we had, we walk into halftime up two, maybe three goals and unfortunately that didn’t happen. Then it’s a matter of us managing the game, reading critical moments and execution and on the flip side that’s what Sporting KC did tonight.”

Watch: Match highlights and replays

Chances came and went for the Union as an unanticipated lineup provided an effort that the final score doesn’t reflect. The Union forced Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to make four saves. The Union had more shots on target (5-4), won more chances to create (61-52) and was effective at finding each other on the pitch, staying away from the bang and chase game plan.  In fact, Kansas City almost tied the score, 2-2 in the 77th after defender Matt Besler headed an errant ball back toward his own goal that Nielsen was forced to save off the line.

“I’m looking at stats here and we have attempts on goal 17 [in favor of the Union] and they have seven,” Hackworth continued. “We pushed the game the right way we did what we wanted to do, it’s just that at the end of the day we just didn’t execute.”

Union captain Brian Carroll echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“I start we started off well and had the game in our grasp,” Carroll said. “Unfortunately we could make that killer play to go up two and put out final stamp on the game and take control of it. Essentially, they got one out of the run of play and it threw us out of rhythm towards the start of the second half and we could never get back into it.”

The Union has a week to prepare for a trip out West Coast to face the Colorado Rapids next Saturday (6 p.m., The Comcast Network). The trick now is finding ways to finish the myriad chances evident the Union can create.

“I can’t think of any way to feel good about anything that just happened,” said Hackworth. “I am glad [Sebastien Le Toux] is here I am glad he scored a goal in his first game back, but this is a team sport and from our perspective it’s unacceptable to play at PPL Park and lose the way we did.”

Sporting Kansas City 3, Philadelphia Union 1

Saturday, March 2; 4:00 p.m.

PPL Park, Chester, Pa.

SCORING SUMMARY

PHI: Le Toux (Daniel), 17’

SKC: Zusi (unassisted), 41

SKC: Rosell (Zusi), 66'

SKC: Bieler (Myers), 83'

DISCIPLINARY SUMMARY

SKC: Collin (caution), 25'

SKC: Convey (caution), 56'

PHI: Gaddis (caution), 89'

UNION STARTING 11

MacMath, Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaddis, Carroll, Lahoud (Torres, 80’), G. Farfan, (McInerney, 20’), M. Farfan, Daniel (Casey, 84’), Le Toux

SPORTING KANSAS CITY STARTING 11

Nielsen, Collin, Myers (Mechack, 89’), Besler, Sinovic, Rosell, Nagamura, Feilhaber (Peterson, 82’), Convey (Sapong, 63’), Zusi, Bieler

Time: 1:52.

Referee: Mark Geiger, Adam Wienckowski, Gregory Barkley, Ted Unkel