About the Teams
Sporting Kansas CitySporting KC come into this match with a sudden dearth of defenders, missing Matt Besler, Lawrence Olum and Seth Sinovic. Sinovic was injured in the match against Toronto FC, Besler is serving a one-game red card suspension and Lawrence Olum is representing Kenya in the African Cup of Nations Qualifiers. The makeshift back line will likely also be joined by Jorge Claros in the defensive midfield, who is yet to make his debut for Sporting KC. Sporting KC currently leads the Eastern Conference by one point over DC United and are tied with Seattle at the top of the Supporters Shield standings. Both teams do have games in hand against Sporting KC.
The Union come into this match sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference but only three points away from third place. They are 3-6-3 away from PPL Park, but one of those wins came against Sporting KC in May. They're unbeaten in seven of their last eight matches, led by Sebastain Le Toux's eight goals on the year. Maurice Edu has been a solid contributor for them this year after signing for the Union in the offseason and they have a new keeper in Rais M'Bolhi, the Algerian World Cup star. Zac MacMath, however, will start for the Union tonight.
Who to Watch
Sporting Kansas City- Kevin Ellis
Ellis has morphed into a jack of all trades for the back line, playing nearly every single position this year. Tonight, he'll be called upon to either take over Seth Sinovic's spot at left back or he will play centerback while Zizzo or Peterson play left back. The Union have beaten Sporting KC this year by bunkering down and getting them on the counter. Ellis will need to track back and make sure the Union do not catch him and the rest of the back line too far forward like they did in May.
Philadelphia Union- Maurice Edu
Edu has been solid for the Union so far this season, providing decent cover in the defensive midfield and at centerback when called upon. Sporting KC is either going to have Benny Feilhaber leading the attack from the midfield tonight or sharing the responsibility with Graham Zusi. Edu will have the responsibility of shutting the game down in the middle and forcing Sporting KC to run the offense from the flanks. With Philadelphia's likelihood to bunker and spring a counter, Edu's performance will be big this game.
Why They'll Win
Sporting Kansas City
Philadelphia has shown the ability both this season and last to come into Sporting Park and get a win. To make sure this does not happen again, Sporting needs to shut down the wings by not letting the wingbacks get too far forward. Sporting KC can apply heavy pressure through the middle and try to overwhelm the backline as long as they do not leave themselves open and vulnerable. They'll have to connect through creative play and getting through balls to Dwyer instead of hammering out a goal through heavy pressure, lest they leave themselves open to a counter.
The Union can do well by giving Conor Casey and Sebastian Le Toux all the chances they need. To do this, they will need to work the middle and get the two forwards behind the defense. They can do this by either forcing the wingbacks to retreat, therefore eliminating an element of Sporting KC's offense or they can overwhelm the middle and outnumber Claros and Feilhaber. It'll be tough trying to stop Sporting KC's high-pressure system but they can do it by keeping Casey and Le Toux dangerous.
Sporting Kansas City: Gruenebaum; Juliao, Collin, Palmer-Brown, Ellis; Claros, Feilhaber, Zusi; Dovale, Dwyer, Saad
Philadelphia Union (From Eugene Rupinski): MacMath; Fabinho, Edu, Williams, Gaddis; Okugo, Nogueira, Fred, Cruz; Casey, Le Toux.