Scouting report: What to expect from Friday's fight against Sporting Kansas City
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Sporting Kansas City is near the top of the Eastern Conference standings in late September.
Sporting Kansas City has been a perennial contender since 2010 and holds a 14-9-6 record (48 points) heading into the final five games of the current season.
For the Union, the unenviable task of playing in Sporting Park on Friday night is also the first opportunity to snap a five game winless streak and end a goalless drought extending beyond 300 minutes.
Philadelphia, now seventh place in the East with 39 points (10-10-9), will play in a city where it's posted a 0-2-1 record in three total tries. All-time, the Union are just 1-4-3 against Kansas City and have not beaten Peter Vermes' team in three straight games.
By virtue of flexibility alone, Kansas City's attack makes it one of the more difficult teams to prepare for.
Similar to Portland, they have a lot of different guys who score goals – Claudio Bieler (10), Kei Kamara (7), Graham Zusi (5), Soony Saad (4), C.J. Sapong (4), Benny Feilhaber (3) – so on and so forth.
It's good news then that Kamara was transferred to Middlesborough and Bieler is listed as questionable with a groin strain.
Vermes' 4-3-3 looked a little different in the recent 2-1 win over Toronto, with Jacob Peterson, Dom Dwyer, and Sapong playing at the top of the formation. Zusi dropped deeper into the three-man midfield with Feilhaber and stand-in defensive midfielder Lawrence Olum.
Keep in mind that while Sporting rolled out the 4-3-3 against Philadelphia way back on March 2, the Union were playing in a more conservative 4-2-3-1 look. John Hackworth has since deployed a more typical 4-1-3-2 shape, so the matchup in the midfield will be considerably different if the Union manager decides to go with that two-striker look on Friday night.
Vermes' 4-3-3 is a free-flowing type of formation, but Oriol Rosell is normally the defensive minded midfielder in the shape. He's dealing with a left quad strain and also listed as questionable for this game. He's started all but two matches this season in league play.
The aforementioned Olum is naturally a center back, but he's a capable backup in the midfield. You've also got veteran Paulo Nagamura who can fill that position.
As far as the backline, it's been one of the most consistent in the league for some time now. Center backs Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin have played alongside right back Chance Myers and left back Seth Sinovic going back several years. Even in the absence of one or more of those guys, Ike Opara and Mechack Jerome are quality young backups.
Possible Starting XI: Nielsen (GK), Myers, Collin, Besler, Sinovic, Olum, Zusi, Feilhaber, Peterson, Sapong, Saad
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Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org