Philadelphia Union (0-2-2, 2 points) at Sporting Kansas City (1-1-2, 5 points)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match
When: Sunday, 7 p.m. Where: Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas
TV: Fox Sports 1 with play-by-play announcer John Strong and analyst Alexi Lalas
Radio: None. Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @theUMatchDay
At one point during each of the last two seasons, the Philadelphia Union have traveled to Kansas City, Mo. amidst a long winless streak to face a notoriously tough team on their home turf.
Both of those times, the Union left Sporting Park with all three points.
So perhaps the weekend trip to the Show-Me State (yes, the stadium is in Kansas City, Kansas) is just what the doctor ordered for head coach Jim Curtin and the 2015 Union, who will ride into town winless in four games and losers of back-to-back contests. It was just last year when the Union were off to a similarly slow start and were winless in nine matches before beating Sporting Kansas City 2-1 on May 14. The year prior, the Union were winless in five straight before grabbing a 1-0 win on Sept. 27.
Will Easter Sunday’s nationally televised game (Fox Sports 1) at 7 p.m. continue the trend? For right now, all the Union know is that the current time is as good as any to right the ship before it’s too late.
“Yeah, there is definitely a sense of urgency from the coaching staff and from the players,” Curtin said. “We know that you can’t dig yourself into a deep hole; we learned that last year, it’s hard to dig out of. We’re not happy with where we sit in the table, at the bottom. But, we’ll have to put together a good effort in Kansas City, have a good performance, and a performance that’s worthy of getting us some points.”
To do that, the Union are obviously going to need to break a scoreless drought that’s now lasted for 212 minutes – an own goal from Jamison Olave. You’d have to go back to first half of the Real Salt Lake game the last time a Union player scored, but despite the lack of goals or shots on target, Curtin says his team is right there, but lacking in the final moments – an area he’s confident they can improve.
“I’d say the biggest problem right now is we’re dribbling when we should be making a pass, and we’re passing when we should be taking a shot,” Curtin said. “We need to recognize the moments when it’s time to get it off your feet and move and trust that you’ll get it back versus when you’re not creating and pressing to do too much. We need to play a little more simple, especially around the goal.”
Again, though, the Union will be shorthanded for the road trip. Likely out due to injury are Conor Casey (lower abdominal), Sheanon Williams (right hamstring), Cristian Maidana (left knee) and Eric Bird (hernia). In addition, Zach Pfeffer and Fred are suspended and C.J. Sapong remains questionable following a concussion sustained in the team’s season opener.
Curtin can take some solace in knowing SKC won’t be a full team, either. Graham Zusi (right hamstring) has been ruled out for each of their next two games and Krisztian Nemeth (right knee) has missed the previous two.
Meanwhile, the newest members of the Western Conference have also come out somewhat sluggish out of the gate. They had just two points in their first three games before grabbing a much-needed 1-0 win over NYCFC last weekend. Now they’re looking to carry that momentum against their former Eastern Conference foes.
“I’ve said this since the start of the season and I’ll say it for quite a while into the season – a lot of teams are trying to find themselves and I think we’re one of them,” Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes said. “You’re constantly trying to build off certain things in your games. You may not be getting it all right every game, but you’re slowly trying to put it together and I think [the Union] are the same as any other team in the league right now.”
Since being exploited for three goals against FC Dallas in Week 2, SKC has done a great job clamping down by positing back-to-back clean sheets since. For the Union to break through there’s little doubt they’re going to need more from Sebastien Le Toux and Andrew Wenger.
The dynamic duo on opposite wings was essential for Curtin down the stretch last season, and it was also one of the key attributes most media pundits thought the club could rely on this season. So far, it’s been the clear the two haven’t been their usual selves quite yet and it’s possible the two haven’t been letting the game come to them.
“They both want to score goals,” Curtin said. “That’s what they’re paid to do, that’s what they want to do for the team – they want to help the team. So, maybe there is a bit of pressing right now in trying to, every time they get on the ball, do something that leads to a goal.”
Of course part of the problem has been the fact the Union have played with just 10 men for nearly half of their last two games – both of which ended in the team being shutout. In addition, they’ve been hampered by injuries. Familiarity has certainly been an issue for a team that’s had to juggle lineups and formations as often as this club has through four games.
“It’s been difficult,” Le Toux said. “I think I’ve been played a lot of time at the 10 with a lot of defensive work. It’s been hard to get some offense going. I can do better; that’s for sure. Just looking at the result, if we don’t win everybody can do better, myself first.”
One thing he isn’t concerned about is the amount of talent on this team. The veteran forward who will play in his 128th game for the club on Sunday – passing teammate Sheanon Williams for the most in club history – said he knows the results will come.
“We have a lot of power offensively,” Le Toux said. “I’m sure I will score a goal this year. When? I don’t know but in the end I just want to win the game. We hope to win as a team and it’s what we will try to do on Sunday.”
What do you think is a gameplan for success against Sporting Kansas City? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.