The Philadelphia Union will look to get back on track Thursday when they travel to Kansas City to match up against the Wizards in their final game before the two-week World Cup break and highly anticipated opening of PPL Park. The match will wrap up a three-game road trip for Philadelphia, which followed a four game road trip earlier in the young season.
The Union head to Kansas City in need of a win, finding themselves at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with seven points and a 2-6-1 record through nine games. However, through ten games, Kansas City is just two points ahead of the Union, registering a record of 2-5-3 in the first third of the regular season. With a win, the Union will move ahead of Kansas City and into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, building confidence leading up to their first game at PPL Park. Aside from KC, every other team in the Eastern Conference has at least two games in hand on the Union.
"We feel like getting three points in any road game is huge,” said Union captain Danny Califf. "That's what we've been trying to do all season. We got that done in Houston, and we'll try and get that done again."
The Union are hoping to bounce back from a tough 2-1 loss against Chicago last Saturday. Despite controlling the flow of play and maintaining possession for the majority of the game, Philadelphia was unable to break down Chicago’s defensive shell. Capitalizing on defensive mistakes, Chicago was able to score two goals against the run of play and hold on to the lead to secure three points at home.
Chicago got off to a fast start, taking the lead in the 14th minute when Patrick Nyarko beat Cristian Arrieta down the end-line and found Baggio Husidic in front of the net for a one-time finish. After the goal, Chicago packed it in, putting all ten field players behind the ball in a tight defensive unit. Although the Union controlled the ball for the majority of the game, they were unable to penetrate Chicago’s defense in the attacking third of the field. Chicago tacked on another goal in the 74th minute when a failed Stefani Miglioranzi clearance ended up at the foot of Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa, who tucked the ball inside the left corner of the net to put Chicago up 2-0. Rookie Danny Mwanga came off the bench and scored for the third straight game in stoppage time, but the Union were unable get the equalizer and left the Windy City with no points.
“We maybe lacked a little in the final pass, in the final third, but Chicago packed it in," added Califf. "I think we (played) almost the entire game in their half. It’s hard to break them down when they do a good job keeping every single player pretty much behind the ball."
Since winning their first two games of the 2010 season, Kansas City has struggled to produce results. Their last victory came against the Colorado Rapids in the second game of the season on April 10. Over the past two months, the Wizards have scored 5 goals and given up 12 goals on their way to a 0-5-3 record in their last eight league matches.
The Wizards are coming off of a 0-0 draw against Toronto in what many people are claiming was a missed opportunity for the Wizards. Although Kansas City took a point from Toronto on the road, they had a man advantage after Toronto had a player sent off for a dirty challenge in the first half. They failed to capitalize on the advantage and then Kansas City's Craig Rocastle returned the favor, receiving a red card as a result of two yellow cards for reckless tackles. The scoreless tie was Kansas City’s first result away from home in five matches. The Wizards have had most of their success at home, entering the match with the Union sporting a 2-1-2 record on their home turf, while they are 0-4-1 away from Kansas City.
Coming off of a tough loss against a stingy Fire defense, the Union will have to make some adjustments on both sides of the ball in order to get a result on the road. Philadelphia will look to come out strong after giving up an early goal against Chicago, as the Union are 2-0-0 when scoring first, and 0-6-1 when giving up the first tally.
"Our goal … is to go and get three points," said Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz. "If we can do that going into the World Cup break, that would be huge. We're going out there with a purpose in mind and that's to come out with three points."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Union must shut down Kansas City’s playmakers, Kei Kamara, who leads the team with five goals, and Ryan Smith, who has one goal and three assists this season. However, the Union will not have to worry about Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza, who will miss the match playing for Honduras in the World Cup. If the Union can minimize their mistakes in the back and not give up any weak goals, especially early in the game, they will give their attack a chance to give Philadelphia their second road victory.
Offensively, the Union need to begin turning their possession into goals. The Union have played very good soccer for much of the season, but they have struggled to create good opportunities in large quantities. Philadelphia will look to be more effective in the final third against the Wizards. Coming off of a game where the Union were unable to penetrate Chicago’s defensive pocket, Philadelphia must be prepared to face a Kansas City defense that gets a lot of numbers behind the ball.
“That’s probably the way the teams will play against us, so we have to be ready for it,” said Union manager Peter Nowak. "We have to work on breaking teams down who just rely on single individuals, or maybe on one lucky shot.”
If the Union work hard and adjust to Kansas City’s defensive tactics, the Union will be able to produce many quality scoring chances and give themselves a good chance to take home three points.