One of the goals of the Philadelphia Union is to finish the season strong. That's why Saturday's 3-1 loss at Houston hurts a little more. Entering the game versus the Dynamo, the Union had won three of their previous four including collecting two straight.
Now, after this last road loss, just two final games remain before the curtain closes on 2012, and both games are against teams with something to play for.
While Sporting Kansas City has clinched a playoff spot, they do want to win the conference again, plus go into the playoffs as one of, if not the hottest team in MLS. Entering Wednesday's game, SKC is unbeaten in their last 11 winning six while drawing five.
Sporting Kansas City comes in with the league's top goals against average at 0.79. Their defense starts up top with their high pressure playing in a 4-3-3. They try to force turnovers up high, closer to their opponent’s goal. That's something that the Union backline need to be aware of. If the Union are to lose the ball, they had better recover quickly because this team pounces quickly.
This is a team that has everything, including solid work on set pieces on both sides of the ball. If they have a weakness, it's the lack of a dependable secondary scorer behind Kei Kamara. C.J. Sapong is up top with Kamara but his goal scoring has been inconsistent this season. The season ending loss of Teal Bunbury (left knee ACL tear) hurt SKC’s depth at the striker position. But with Jimmy Nielsen rock solid in goal, this is a team that could make it to MLS Cup, and win it.
Following the road game in Kansas City, the Union return home for their finale against the New York Red Bulls. While New York has also clinched a playoff spot, they could still move up or down in the East in terms of playoff seeding. They surely want to avoid fifth place which would put them in a one game winner take all, most likely at Houston who are 11-0-6 at home. The Red Bulls have as much talent as anyone, but can they play together, and win when it counts, especially on the road?
The Union will want to close on a high note, playing at home in front of another spectacular crowd. For some, it's one more chance to show team manager John Hackworth that they belong on next year’s team. For others, it's continuing their fine play since Hackworth took over.
You can catch all of the action of the Union's final two games on the NBC Sports Network, Wednesday at 8 p.m. eastern, and Saturday’s match against New York will be on NBC beginning at 1:30 pm.
Regardless of the category, Hackworth's work doesn't end after the Red Bulls game on Saturday. On the contrary, his work will truly be beginning as he tries to return this team to the playoff team that they were, just one year ago.
Kei Kamara has led the offense with 11 goals, while talented U.S. international midfielder Graham Zusi has chipped in with five goals and a whopping 15 assists. His 15 assists lead the league and his five game winning assists put him in a four-way tie for the top spot. He's a threat during the run of play, as well as on free kicks that he takes for the club.