Jay Simpson started, and Jay Simpson finished. The English striker’s second half brace led Philadelphia Union to a 2-0 victory over Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City Sunday afternoon in a rainy Talen Energy Stadium.
Jim Curtin handed a first ever start to Olivier Mbaizo at right back, with Mark McKenzie stepping in for the suspended Jack Elliott and Fabinho spelling Ray Gaddis, who picked up a mild ankle knock against Seattle. In midfield, Derrick Jones and Warren Creavalle formed a double pivot behind Borek Dockal with David Accam and Fabian Herbers flanking Jay Simpson up front.
Simpson was the first to threaten, spinning his man and firing wide of goal in the third minute. Accam was up next, collecting a fine lofted pass from Dockal on the left and cutting inside both Graham Zusi and Ike Opara before firing a shot at the far corner that rose just over the bar.
In the 10th minute, Simpson had the best chance of the half when Accam’s mishit shot from the left fell to him behind the defense. The Union winger connected with Herbers and freed himself just inside the box before firing across the face of goal. Simpson broke in behind and had a sudden 1v1 with Tim Melia. The excellent Sporting goalie was out quickly to cut the angles and Simpson could only fire at the keeper.
It took until the 27th minute for KC to truly get behind the Union defense. After a Fabinho cross was cleared, Sporting broke the other way through Krisztian Nemeth. The striker found Gerso Fernandes on the right and he beat Auston Trusty then rounded John McCarthy. The winger’s last move took him wide, however, and he fired into the side netting.
Philly’s next chance came in the 36th minute when, off a corner, the ball popped out to Herbers. He thwacked it into a crowd in front of goal and the ball rebounded up off the crossbar then bonked off of Melia’s prone leg and stayed out. Simpson followed the play but his shot was cleared off the line.
In the 43rd minute, referee Mark Geiger overlooked a penalty shout when Mbaizo got isolated on Matt Besler in the box. The debutant right back pulled off a pair of stepovers and put the ball past the center back, who moved his body in front of Mbaizo without attempting to play the ball. Geiger waved off any penalty appeals as Mbaizo lay on the ground.
The Western Conference leaders sought to assert themselves at the start of the second half and nearly jumped in front by lofting a ball back post for Felipe Gutierrez, who was increasingly looking to overload the left side. Gutierrez placed his header low to John McCarthy’s left but the goalie sprung to his side and pushed it around the far post.
In the 67th, Graham Zusi fought through two tackles on the right and spun a ball into the box for Nemeth. The striker, who had been invisible for much of the match, had his first shot blocked then fired a second that McCarthy covered up.
Then, in the 71st minute, it was Jay Simpson’s time to shine. The English striker has patiently waited his turn over the past two seasons, and when it came he took it with aplomb. Auston Trusty played a long ball across the pitch to substitute Ale Bedoya’s head and the Union captain knocked it back across goal to Simpson. The striker waited for the ball to drop to his right foot and then drove that foot through the unlucky orb, blasting it into the far netting for the go-ahead goal.
Kansas City looked to respond through Zusi and, in the 81st minute, after Geiger had waved away what appeared to be a clear foul on Jones in the center, Sporting found their right back in the middle of the pitch. He put his laces through a hard shot but McCarthy got behind it, spilled it, then covered it up.
In the 87th minute, KC again found Zusi breaking down the right but Trusty was on hand to clear the cross away.
Sporting was back at it a minute later, but when the ball fell to Nemeth in the middle, he scuffed his shot and McCarthy got low to push the shot away.
The visitors would rue that miss when Bedoya and Simpson combined again in the 89th minute to finish the match off. Picault, on as a sub, cut onto his left and played a sumptuous ball into Bedoya behind the defensive line. The Union midfielder cushioned a header to Simpson and, all alone in front of Melia, the striker smashed his finish inside the near post.
The win puts the Union on a two match winning streak heading into their US Open Cup final against Houston Dynamo this Wednesday evening. They are also one point behind Columbus Crew for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a showdown against Gregg Berhalter’s men looming next weekend.