Kansas City look likely to win the Eastern Conference – but it's not official just yet.
Peter Vermes' team can clinch the conference crown with a win or draw at LIVESTRONG Park on Wednesday night. But if the Union beat Sporting on their home turf, D.C. United has a shot to go top of the table.
That's why Union manager John Hackworth expects to see Kansas City's best eleven.
"I think Kansas City is going to have to play their best team on Wednesday night," Hackworth told the media at Monday's impromptu press conference. "I think they'll want to do that anyway, just so they have some momentum going into the playoffs. But I think they need to now. They have to get a point to secure the championship in the East, so I would suspect that we'll see their best team on Wednesday.
This will be the third meeting between Philadelphia and Kansas City in 2012. The Union steamrolled Sporting, 4-0 at PPL Park back on June 23. That was Hackworth's first win as interim manager. Kansas City got revenge three weeks later, ousting the Union from the U.S. Open Cup semifinals with a 2-0 shutout, also at PPL Park.
Sporting are coming off a hard fought scoreless draw at the weekend against New York.
"We know each other very well," Hackworth said. "I think they'll play differently at home, as opposed to how they played in New York. That'll be a big test for us. But we're familiar with them. Our systems are similar. We've changed a little bit in the last month or so, but we've had success playing a 4-3-3 against them (at PPL Park). It'll be interesting. But I definitely think they're going to play their best game and their best players."
The 2-0 loss to Kansas City in July ended an excellent midseason Open Cup run for the Union.
But Hackworth doesn't see a "revenge factor" coming into play this time around. He explained that it's more about whether Kansas City decides to revisit the overtly physical and disruptive gameplan that stymied the Union on their home turf.
"It's been so many months. I'm sure we'll talk about [revenge] a little bit," Hackworth explained. "But the more interesting dynamic to this game, for me at least, and what we're trying to talk to our players about – is what kind of style will Kansas City play against us. Clearly when they came here in the Open Cup they had a very tactical plan that is very different from the way they usually play. It'll be interesting to see in the first 5 or 10 minutes the tactics that are being played out on both sides."
A key component to Wednesday's game is the status of center midfielder Roger Espinosa, who is day-to-day with a sprained ankle. The Honduran international is a box-to-box nuisance with exceptional stamina and energy.
"Espinosa I think is a fantastic player right now, especially for them, he's so important," said Hackworth. "If they have him available at 100 percent, it would be interesting to see whether they actually put him out there. They went on the road to New York, and had a good result with the personnel they played. I would suspect we'll see a similar team on Wednesday night, unless something happens with Espinosa. Obiously, I'm not going to know that. But if I were Peter Vermes, I'd be a little cautious about playing one of my best players in the final game going into the playoffs."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at email@example.com. Follow Kevin on Twitter @PhilUnionKevinK