The Union had a big test for their first game of the 2013 season. They were hosting the Eastern Conference champions of the past two seasons, Sporting KC. I personally didn’t see much in the preseason that would have made me think the Union were going to challenge for the top spot in the east this year, but it would be good to see how the Union compare. I doubt anyone would have predicted the starting lineup sent out by Coach Hackworth:
Philadelphia Union Starting XI
Gabe Farfan in the midfield and Gaddis at left back, Soumare, Casey and McInernary all on the bench. I could almost see this being an ideal lineup but I would rather see Soumare in at CB and Okugo playing DM instead of Lahoud. Lahoud and Carroll together don’t offer enough going forward for me.
Sporting Kansas City Starting XI
Sporting KC’s lineup was probably closer to what was expected except CJ Sapong was on the bench where I anticipated him to get the start with Kei Kamara currently on loan in England playing for Norwich City.
For most of the first half, it was all about the Union. Not sure when Hackworth had a chance to play these guys together because this line-up wasn’t used in preseason but they worked well together and found spaces to attack pretty quickly. Both Daniel and Gabe were finding room out wide and Michael Farfan was finding areas in the midfield to work some magic. It was really a shocking first 15 minutes. Sporting came out flat, it looked like Feilhaber and Nagamura weren’t working well together and it allowed the Union to take control and get balls into dangerous areas. After a few good chances, the Union converted in 17th minute with a goal from Le Toux. Not a shock that it was Le Toux, that was written in the cards, but the ball in from Daniel was brilliant. Something that was missing from Daniel last year was his willingness to create chances, but maybe the faith of the coach starting him in the first game of the year gave him the encouragement to stretch the field with some long passes. It looked like the making of a big game for the Union. The Union did beat KC handily last year at home 4-0 so maybe they would do it again.
The Union continued to pour it on, Le Toux with a perfect pass from Sheanon Williams with only the keeper to beat hit the shot wide. 2-0 at that point would have been a huge mental hurdle for KC to overcome. But the Union continued to play well. Gaddis and Gabe were very active winning corner kicks and drawing fouls. Then KC scored in the 41st minute after Zac MacMath spilled a save right into Graham Zusi’s path. It was tough way to end a well played Union first half.
Even when the Union were playing well, I think one would have anticipated that KC would make adjustments at half time to deal with the Union’s play. Though they didn’t make any substitutions they upped their play in the second half and the Union never really was able to regain their sharp play. Sporting took the lead in 66th minute with a header by an unmarked Rossell. MacMath didn’t make the right choice when coming for the ball, but I am more concerned about the defense on that particular play. I wonder if Soumare’s size would have helped. The Union started to look small after KC found their feet. The Union made a change bring in Jack Mac for Gabe Farfan at 70th minute. It was a concession that the crisp passing game was no longer working and now they were going to hoof it up to McInerney hoping he can poach a goal and he almost did with a nice header to tie it up. Unfortunately Bieler a new DP for KC was able to put the game away when he scored after a defensive mixup between Daniel and Gaddis in the 83rd minute. Gaddis offers a lot going forward, but he made a few defensive mistakes that results in goals. Roger Torres had been on the field right before KC’s 3rd goal, with 10 minutes to make his mark. Some might complain that Torres only got 10 minutes but if you are a Roger Torres fan you have to feel good that he even got on the field because in the past Hoppenot has been the energy guy late in games to mix it up. Conor Casey got a few minutes after the goal, but didn’t have much time to make an impact.
Union fans have to be happy to see how the team played in the first half, but it has always been about consistency with this team and the ability to scrape out wins and points. Until they can do that they will struggle in the MLS meat grinder, because the best teams have the grit to play well throughout the season. Another test next week in Colorado, when Conor Casey returns to his former team.