The 2013 Major League Soccer season shoved off from the shores of the Delaware River on Saturday. The host Philadelphia Union were the dominant team in the match, but Sporting Kansas City took better advantage of their fewer chances and ended victorious 3-1 on a chilly March afternoon.
The story of this match for the Philadelphia Union was the return of Sebastien Le Toux. It was a cinch that he would start, but the questions were, “Where?” and, “In what formation?” Le Toux was the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Farfan twins flanked Keon Daniel in the attacking midfield, and that left Jack McInerney and Conor Casey to bench work. Newcomer Jeff Parke dropped straight into the lineup, pairing with Amobi Okugo in central defense.
The Next Chapter For KC
Some offseason moves have left KC plugging a few holes in their lineup. Their back 5 was their one area of solidity, a defensive corps that has been relatively static for two years. Jimmy Nielsen kept net with a Chance Myers-Aurelien Collin-Matt Besler-Seth Sinovic backline. The losses of Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza to the Barclay’s Premier League were met with the purchase of Ecuadorian striker Claudio Bieler, and the acquisition of Benny Feilhaber from New England. Peter Vermes stayed with his usual 4-5-1, using Bobby Convey and Graham Zusi as flanking midfielders to Bieler’s forward position.
The entire match had to leave Union fans remembering 2011, at least from an attacking viewpoint. The team had one of its strongest matches from an attacking perspective since the departure of Le Toux. It could be a function of their opponent – last season, the Union put 4 goals past Kansas City, and thus Sporting may be a good matchup for the Union.
From the get-go the Union looked dangerous. Gabe Farfan forced Nielsen to make a solid save in the 4th minute, and the left winger spent plenty of time pestering Myers down KC’s right side. In the 17th minute, it was some interplay between Gabe Farfan and Keon Daniel that set up the Union’s opening goal. Daniel faked a pass to Farfan down the left flank, and quickly floated a ball behind the KC defense. Le Toux controlled the ball near the penalty spot, and powered a shot off Nielsen and into the goal for the 1-0 lead.
Le Toux then had another great chance one-on-one with Nielsen 6 minutes later, but the French forward scuffed his shot to the left of goal. The 25th minute saw Raymon Gaddis hacked down just outside the area by Collin, drawing a yellow. The resulting free kick by Michael Farfan from the left forced a great save by Nielsen.
KC Wakes Up
Philadelphia appeared to be in control through the half-hour mark, but that was when Sporting began to exploit the Union’s attacking intent. A warning shot was fired on a through ball in the 31st minute, as Parke had to clear the chance away from Convey.
Some sloppy coverage led to the equalizer within 5 minutes of halftime. Convey was able to swing a cross in from the left, and Bieler got the ball down out of the air to a wide open Feilhaber. His laser shot was stopped by MacMath, but the rebound came out 3 yards in front of the young keeper. Zusi was in the right position to send the bouncing ball into the top half to knot the score at 1.
Second Half To Sporting
The first 15 minutes of the second half were guarded for both teams. The game changed in the 66th minute though, three minutes after Convey was brought off for Sapong. Sapong drew a free kick about 25 yards from MacMath’s goal as Sheanon Williams dragged him down. Zusi swung in the free kick, and Uri Rosell flashed a few yards in front of MacMath. The Spaniard headed the ball past MacMath to grab the lead at 2-1.
As the Union chased the game with attacking substitutions (McInerney for Gabe Farfan and Roger Torres for Michael Lahoud), Kansas City pounced on another opportunity. This time, Bieler earned his first goal in the light blue. Myers cut a ball back from the right flank to Bieler just inside the area. He controlled it, and had enough time to place his shot to the far post. The third KC goal put an end to the Union’s hopes, and gave Sporting a good road victory to open the season.
Sporting Kansas City (1-0-0) will travel to Rogers Centre in Toronto to face TFC on Saturday next week. The Union (0-1-0) will also be on the road Saturday, and will look for their first victory against the Colorado Rapids. Both teams have some room for optimism. KC was not dominant, but were clinical and got their new Designated Player on the score sheet. Philadelphia looked dangerous and played well against a better team. If their finishing improves and limit mistakes, they could work their way into playoff contention.