Scouting report: A breakdown of what to expect from Saturday's opponent in Sporting KC
The year started with Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park and it will end with Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park.
It's a regular season finale with playoff implications for both teams, as Philadelphia looks to stay alive in the race and Sporting pushes for MLS' Supporter's Shield.
The Union must win the game to have any shot of making the postseason. The team would then have to wait until Sunday for the results of the New England and Houston games. Kansas City can claim the Supporters Shield (given to the club with the highest and secure home field advantage if Portland and New York slip-up.
It will be the third match this season between the clubs. Sporting took the season opener at PPL Park, 3-1 in March. The return trip to Kansas City last month was a critical 1-0 shutout win for the Union.
Philadelphia is just 2-4-3 all-time against Kansas City and has lost two straight games to Sporting at PPL Park.
Kansas City is coming off a midweek home match in the CONCACAF Champion's League against Olimpia of Honduras. The scoreless draw qualified Peter Vermes' team for the quarterfinal stages of the competition.
Sporting rolled out a strong squad made up mostly of starters in that game. Midfielders Graham Zusi, Lawrence Olum, and Uri Rosell were deployed in the the team's typical 4-3-3 formation. Forwards C.J. Sapong and Jacob Peterson were selected alongside the sparingly-used Teal Bunbury up top.
That's a solid forward line, and it doesn't even take into account that leading goalscorer Claudio Bieler was on the bench with Dom Dwyer and Soony Saad. Benny Feilhaber has played an important role this year and Peterson Joseph is another midfield option.
Sporting KC has really rotated its forwards this season, with most of those guys seeing good chunks of playing time throughout the year. There's no real way to predict what grouping you'll see, but Vermes has seemed to prefer Sapong, Dwyer, and Saad in recent league games. Bieler has been dealing with injuries this Fall and will eventually figure back into the equation.
Midfielder Paulo Nagamura is out with an ankle strain, which is why Olum has seen significant time in the midfield.
The defense is the best in the league, with a measly 29 goals allowed all season. All-Stars Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler are the first choice center back pairing but Ike Opara has played a large chunk of minutes as the third CB option this season. Right back Chance Myers and left back Seth Sinovic have started almost every game this season in front of experienced goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
The aformentioned Olum provides backline depth with former Orlando City defender Mechak Jerome.
Possible Starting XI: Nielsen (GK), Sinovic, Collin, Opara, Myers, Rosell, Feilhaber, Zusi, Saad, Dwyer, Sapong (4-3-3)
What do you think of this Sporting KC squad? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org