MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
• For Sporting Kansas City to win the Supporters’ Shield, it has to defeat the Philadelphia Union on Saturday and hope that the New York Red Bulls tie or lose to the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
• The Philadelphia Union must win to give itself a chance to make the playoffs. In addition, the Houston Dynamo must lose to D.C. United on Sunday or tie without scoring more than one goal. Also, the New England Revolution must lose to the Columbus Crew on Sunday (a tie would also do, as long as Philadelphia scores eight more goals than the Revs on the weekend).
• Kansas City and Philadelphia have split two meetings this season, with Kansas City winning 3-1 on opening day and Philadelphia winning 1-0 on Sept. 27. On both occasions, the away team has been victorious.
Having won five of its last seven league games, Sporting Kansas City is one of a handful of teams at the top of the Major League Soccer standings that heads into the final day of the season with a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield. Nothing less than a win (and some help elsewhere) on Saturday at the Philadelphia Union (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN or streaming online on NBC Live Extra) will do.
The Union finds itself in a similar must-win situation, but Philadelphia is fighting for its playoff life, not the first-place trophy. It needs even more help if it is to come through an up-and-down season with a playoff berth. Captain Brian Carroll will be suspended for the match through yellow-card accumulation, making the task more difficult.
On the other side of the ball, the Union has scored just four goals in the last nine games, with Designated Player signing Kléberson (pictured) having a hand in three of them. Without his game-winning goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time against Toronto FC on Oct. 5, his team would not have a chance at the playoffs right now.
Scoring just two goals in its last five games in all competitions, Kansas City is in the same spot offensively. That stretch includes the 1-0 loss to the Union last month, as well as scoreless draws with the Houston Dynamo and Olimpia, in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday.
What they’re saying
Union head coach John Hackworth on his team’s playoff chances: “We need a little help from people on Sunday, but we have to take care of business on Saturday. We have to get three points. We have to beat a very good Sporting Kansas City team. So that allows to us to focus in, if you will, and just take care of what we can. We can’t worry about anybody else.”
Sporting goalkeeper Eric Kronberg on Wednesday’s Champions League match and the quick turnaround: “It’s a quick turnaround. We have a game this weekend. But we’ll be happy about it tonight, but tomorrow it’s right back to work and we’re thrilled to be through to the knockout round. I feel like we expected to be through, and it’s good to accomplish that goal.”
Philadelphia defender Sheanon Williams on the mentality of a must-win game: “The only way for us to even think about playoffs is winning the game, so we’ll definitely do our best, I guess, trying to gamble safely, which sounds stupid, but we can’t throw all caution to the wind and go down two goals. That’s not going to help us. We’ll have to do it smartly.”
With the attacking troubles both teams have had recently, Saturday’s matchup doesn’t look to be a high-scoring, entertaining clash, despite its importance to both teams. It may not be the most attractive of results, but perhaps predicting a scoreless tie would ensure that the opposite happens.