Match preview: Major implications, national spotlight for Union at home against Sporting KC

Union to complete part for possible playoff magic (3 p.m., NBCSN)

 

Sporting Kansas City at Philadelphia Union

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.

TV: NBC Sports Network with play-by-play announcer John Strong and color analyst Robbie Mustoe

Radio: None; Online: Watch via MLS Live;

Social: Follow the Union’s matchday feed on Twitter: @TheUMatchday

Game notes and more information: Click here

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So this is it.

The task at hand is defeating a Sporting Kansas City team out to claim MLS’ Supporters Shield, given to the league’s best team (in terms of points).  Booking its trip to the playoffs about a week ago, the goal now for Sporting is to simply finish out as the best heading into postseason play next week.

On the other hand, you have the Union.

A team that needs to upset Sporting KC and hope that games on Sunday, the final day of the MLS season, fall in its favor. Right now, the Union need Houston to fall to lowly D.C. United (1:30 p.m., NBC) in addition to Columbus to knock off New England (4 p.m., watch on MLS Live) in its home finale at Crew Stadium.

Houston doesn’t need to lose its match as long as its match ends in a draw and the goals scored don’t surpass the Union in the "goals for" category, a statistic that serves as one of MLS’ pivotal playoff tiebreakers. Earlier this week on philadelphiaunion.com, writer Kevin Kinkead broke down that scenario to a science.

Sporting Kansas City arrived in Philadelphia Thursday coming off its scoreless draw against Honduran side CD Olimpia in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night. It was a result that put the SKC through to the quarterfinals.

In essence, this is a Sporting club riding high – squaring off against a club in the Union looking to burst their bubble.

“It will be interesting to see what [Sporting Kansas City does],” said Union manager John Hackworth. “They...are in a similar spot where they could be playing for the Supporters Shield and are looking for some results to go their way as well; and that means they might try to come [and press us]. But we know what we have to do and we are going to focus on that. We know each other well enough – this is the third time we’ve met [this season] and so we’ll see how it all plays out.”

In eight all-time league meetings, the Union has beaten Sporting twice and has battled to three draws. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is tied for the league lead in shutouts (13) following a 1-0 win in league play against D.C. United last Friday. In terms of injury only midfielder Paulo Nagamura (left ankle strain) is listed.

Conversely, the Union still awaits the prognosis of midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux. Le Toux has been hampered with a plantar fasciitis injury that Hackworth noted Wednesday was still an issue, but one he hopes will not keep MLS’ leader in assists out for the regular season finale. Also, the Union must decide who will slot in at defensive midfield as captain Brian Carroll will miss this match due to yellow card accumulation. In training sessions earlier this week, Hackworth filled the void with a handful of different looks. However one of which was not midfielder Michael Lahoud – at least early in the week -- the assumed incumbent, except he continues to rehab an ankle injury.

Nevertheless, the Union will look to etch its name into the history books with a win over Sporting Kansas City at home and keep faith that the chips fall in the right places on the season’s final day with the club’s second postseason berth in four seasons.

If there ever was a wait-and-see-weekend, this is it.

Notes: Referee Baldomero Toledo will be the official in this match...Conor Casey, Danny Cruz and Jack McInerney are all on yellow cards heading into the finale. For Sporting, Claudio Bieler, Benny Feilhaber, Peterson Joseph, Lawrence Olum and Seth Sinovic have caution flags and all of which started KC’s most recent MLS match against D.C. United...the Union will honor defender and Philadelphia native Chris Albright who will retire from professional soccer after a 15-year-career that spanned five teams, three MLS Cups, three MLS-All Star appearances and 22 U.S. national team caps including being named to the squad that represented the United States in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Have thoughts on Saturday’s match? Leave them in the comments below.

Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com