The day has finally arrived.
Sporting Kansas City are playing for a trophy tonight.
For the glory of the city.
Peter Vermes, his team, and his Army (about 800 strong) look to bring home the 3rd trophy in 4 seasons on Wednesday night in Pennsylvania. I got with John Rossi of our sister site, Brotherly Game to discuss the big match.
1) The Blue Testament: Hosting the final in front of their supporters, is this the biggest game in the history of the club? Has last year's Open Cup provided some extra motivation for these guys?
John Rossi: Easily. Last year's final was a devastating punch to the gut for this entire fanbase, and now that the Union are back, all of the emotions from last year have returned twofold. There's the same nervous excitement from 2014, but this year, a sort of fierce determination has risen among both fans and players. In our interview with Maurice Edu, he spoke about how the team had made it a goal to return to the final in order to atone for last year's loss. Union marketing has gone with the #UnfinishedBusiness hashtag in the lead-up to tonight's game, and I'd say that accurately represents the attitude floating around the Unionsphere.
2) TBT: CJ Sapong had some good years in KC and there is a lot of love for him here. He's got 9 goals and 4 assists on the season for the Union. What does the future look like for Sapong in Philadelphia?
JR: I desperately hope that someone in the Union organization is as high on CJ Sapong as I am. Since he assumed the starting role back in June, he's shown that he can do it all. He wins headers. He bodies defenders and holds up play. He can turn and run at a back line. He scores goals too, but that's not as important! Seriously though, he does so much work to serve as both an outlet and a facilitator for the Union's offense that even when he goes on a month-long scoring drought, his minutes do not come into question. Criminally, Sapong didn't receive a second assist for this, but it perfectly encapsulates everything that I love about him. He has the physical tools, his feet are exceptionally light, and he's smart enough to know how to drag a defender out of position or find space in the box. If he's allowed full starter's minutes as he enters his prime, he could be the most prolific scorer for the Union since the old Sebastien Le Toux.
3a) TBT: At 9th place in the Eastern Conference, the MLS season looks to be lost. The Union will have to rise to the occasion to get themselves a Cup. What must go right? What makes this team successful?
JR: Chemistry will be key for the Union tonight. Injuries, suspensions, and rotation have prevented the back line and attacking midfield trio from logging sufficient competitive minutes. How Edu transitions back into the team, and how Cristian Maidana, Sebastien Le Toux, and Tranquillo Barnetta combine will be crucial to the Union's success.
3b) TBT: And on the other side.. What was missing from Philadelphia this season? What does SKC need to do to find success?
JR: For SKC to take home the trophy tonight, they'll need to take Maidana out of the game. He can pick apart any defense when he's at his best, so Sporting needs to do everything they can to deny him the opportunity to do so. SKC should also look to capitalize on an unreliable Union defense. Fabinho and Ray Gaddis have disappointed in recent weeks, and Edu and Marquez suffer from lapses in concentration, which is not unexpected when a converted central midfielder and a rookie compose a team's central defensive pairing. A missed mark from either of the two could very well lead to the Union's downfall.
The Brotherly Game Lineup and Score Predictions:
Lineup: Blake; Fabinho, Edu, Marquez, Gaddis; Lahoud, Nogueira; Barnetta, Maidana, Le Toux; Sapong
Score: Philadelphia Union 3-2 Sporting Kansas City
1) Brotherly Game: Many Union fans consider Wednesday's game to be the most important in franchise history. Given Sporting Kansas City's success, is it viewed similarly, or is there a feeling of "Been there, done that?"
Cody Bradley: Everyone is very excited about the chance to win another trophy. These fans want silverware, CCL (more games to watch), glory, and bragging rights. With almost 1,000 strong traveling across the country for a game in the middle of the week, KC is very excited for this!
If there is anything holding it back, it is perhaps a combination of recent form for the last month, and also maybe a little bit of Royals playoff fever. While I think everyone is aware this is not MLS Cup or Supporters' Shield, this is for the glory of the city. People in KC love their home and they love for the rest of the nation to see why they feel way the way they do!
This team and the ownership are something special. And the fans know that. If we can get this Cup... 3 trophies in 4 years are what dynasty's look like. The front office deserves it, coaches deserve it, the players, AND the fans all deserve it. Everyone is very hungry just a short 90 minutes away from another trophy to bring home.
2) BG: SKC are stumbling into the final, winning just one of their last eight. What's been plaguing them? Do you think it could impact their performance on Wednesday?
CB: Obviously, it is hard to pin point the problem. If it was that easy, Peter Vermes would have figured it out long before me. It was a combination of several things. Simply a clusterf***.
To be perfectly honest, this team was playing above themselves for a while. With Ike Opara going down early in the season, with rookies being forced to play serious minutes, there have been very big questions for some time. Kevin Ellis is not a real CB, but has played valiantly! As have the rookies. Vermes has played three on the field at the same time, multiple times. And well, it was working.
Tim Melia was a superhero bailing out the defense on a nightly basis. The lack of height and inexperience on the back line was being covered up. But Melia, like real humans, was not going to be able to keep that up. At the same time both Roger Espinoza and Soni Mustivar went down. The two of them are VERY important to the defense and that became especially clear when KC lost them.
On top of normal troubles and injuries there were other factors like players out due to suspensions also. If you asked Peter Vermes and.... well me... there have also been terrible, no good, very bad refereeing decisions. Every team deals with that, but some incredibly poor timing on bad calls led to PV getting fined for speaking out against the refs.
So it was several different things that led to the drop off in form. But since then, we have seen this team look like themselves at least. In the game against Dallas we could see the magic was still there. Moreover, having a bunch of backups pull out a result against the Sounders on Sunday should give them a little momentum traveling to Philly for the Cup.
3) BG: We know how good Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, and Matt Besler have been for KC, but what other guys could make a difference in the final?
CB: First one that comes to mind is Krisztian Nemeth. He has been fantastic on the wing for SKC in his first season with the club. He has 13 goals and 7 assists across all competitions. He is very good with his back to goal and can change a game in an instant. If he is confident and in the mood, it is difficult to stop him. However, he has been injured and it is possible he will not be at 100% for this game.
Soni Mustvar is a less 'sexy' pick to watch. He plays the under appreciated role of holding midfield, and has been HUGE for this club. Especially with so much inexperience on the back line. Nobody thought KC could replace Uri Rosell, but Soni is doing a fantastic impression. He isn't going to a presence in the box and he probably isn't going to score the winning goal. But the ground he covers, the passes he intercepts, and his key tackles, have saved this team time and time again. Vermes himself has even referred to him as the MVP of this team.
Finally, Tim Melia makes a difference almost every game. The club brought in Luis Marin from Chile this offseason to hopefully lock down the job of keeper for years to come, but that quickly proved to not work out very well. Enter Tim Melia. The guy was an MLS Pool Goalkeeper last season, but when he was give the chance he never looked back. He is single handedly responsible for several points SKC have won this season. Nobody saw it coming, probably not even him, but he is a VERY important part to this team. I can confidently say that he is going to cause at least one moment of distress for fans of the Union when he robs somebody of a goal.
The Blue Testament Lineup and Score Predictions:
(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Chance Myers, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, Soni Mustivar, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber, Krisztian Nemeth, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi
Sporting KC 3 - 2 Philadelphia Union