This was the situation last year: Sporting Kansas City was competing for the top spot in the Western Conference. Philadelphia Union was preparing for a midweek US Open Cup final. The two teams were scheduled to meet in Philly.
Rarely will circumstances conspire to put a home team at more of a disadvantage. Jim Curtin rolled out a starting eleven featuring Jay Simpson up front and debutant Olivier Mbaizo at right back. He started Warren Creavalle and Derrick Jones in the center against one of the most fluid midfields in the league.
And… the Union won 2-0. John McCarthy was sensational in goal, but at no point did KC look like they were the dominant power many expected to arrive in the City of Brotherly Love.
Just over five months later, it is Philadelphia’s turn to play the timely invader. Peter Vermes’ side is coming off a defeat to Panama’s Independiente in the Concacaf Champions League and needs to marshall resources for the home leg next week. Additionally, they are missing Roger Espinoza to suspension and Andreu Fontas to injury. Ilie Sanchez, the defensive lynchpin of KC’s midfield, looked sluggish against Independiente. But if he sits, who plays? There isn’t a clear answer on the Sporting roster, so look for that to be an area of weakness the Union can attack.
The front line is likely to feature the dangerous trio of Johnny Russell, Gerso, and Krisztian Nemeth. All three can create and finish, and both wingers will drop into channels to pull defenders out of position. Cutting off service to these three dangermen is key to Philly’s hopes of snagging three points.
For Philadelphia, strikers Cory Burke and Fafa Picault will be looking to get off the mark in 2019 after being held scoreless by Toronto FC. Sergio Santos came off the bench against Toronto and didn’t get a full week of training due to the birth of his daughter. No matter who starts, the goal will be to target the space between Graham Zusi and Botond Barath on KC’s right. BOth Independiente and LAFC have done so successfully in the past week.
Roster-wise, the only hint Jim Curtin gave during his midweek press conference was that Derrick Jones will travel this week, so expect the homegrown midfielder to be available even if he doesn’t start. The Union are unlikely to drop Marco Fabian or Ale Bedoya, but there could be midfield, striker, and defensive spots up for grabs.
Tune in to PHL17 for a pregame show and then follow all the action starting at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 10.