Photo: Paul Rudderow
Sebastien Le Toux wasted little time in opening his account upon his return to Philadelphia, but the Union could not make the result stand up, falling 3-1 to Sporting Kansas City in the 2013 season opener.
As with most recent contests between these two sides, it was a chippy, physical affair, and the Union will be disappointed to have squandered the lead late in a first half they had dominated.
Seventeen minutes into the match, Keon Daniel picked out Le Toux crashing into the box. The Frenchman needed only a cultured touch to settle the ball before powering it past Jimmy Nielsen to send PPL Park into dream land.
Le Toux’s night however, would be defined as much by a chance he missed, when Sheanon Williams found him with the net beckoning, only to see the chance spurned.
Sporting Kansas City’s quality began to show through as the half wore on. Graham Zusi leveled the score after Zac MacMath could only parry Benny Feilhaber’s point blank shot into his path. It was all downhill from there. Kansas City took the lead when Uri Rosell shed his marker for the simplest of free headers past MacMath. Claudio Bieler marked his MLS debut with the third Kansas City goal, ending any chance of a Union fight back.
With his first selection of the season, John Hackworth elected to play a 4-2-3-1 that the team had not shown in preseason. Amobi Okugo was chosen over Bakary Soumare to partner with Jeff Parke at center back, while Ray Gaddis earned a surprising start on the left opposite Sheanon Williams. Captain Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud paired to shield the Union back four. Expected left back Gabriel Farfan jumped into an attacking threesome alongside his brother, Michael, and Keon Daniel, while Sebastien Le Toux ran alone up top.
From the opening whistle, the Union looked to pin back Sporting KC, and Nielsen was called into action inside of five minutes. When Michael Farfan picked Matt Besler’s pocket in the fourth minute, he did well to find Le Toux in the box. Taking the layoff from his striker, Gabe Farfan’s powerful drive was too near Nielsen who could only parry it back to Farfan’s feet, but his second effort soared over the bar.
Kansas City struggled to deal with the Union’s high pressure, and turnovers led to the Union attacking in waves. First Le Toux chipped just over the bar before Michael Farfan again picked him out, only to see his shot attempt blocked behind.
There was space to be had, but the Union were occasionally sloppy in possession with Daniel, Carroll and Lahoud all conceding possession cheaply in the middle third. Fortunately, the intense level of defensive pressure saw the Union win back the ball with ease.
On 17 minutes, the Union stormed ahead through Le Toux. Breaking forward up the left flank, Daniel hesitated a moment allowing Gabe Farfan to overlap. Frozen by Farfan’s movement, the Kansas City defense sat back, allowing Daniel to flight the perfect ball in between Besler and Aurelien Collin. Le Toux’s touch was clinical, teeing himself up for a strong shot which left Nielsen helpless.
It was a deserved opener, and the Union continued to pour forward as they threatened to overrun Kansas City. They should have been ahead minutes later, again through Le Toux. After Michael Farfan released him through the midfield, Williams launched forward on a blistering run to sprint clear of the KC backline. Spotting his striker ghosting in from the left, Williams rolled the ball into Le Toux’s path, only to see him badly mishit his first time effort, when the simplest of touches could have doubled the Union’s advantage.
Undeterred, the Union crashed forward, this time through the other fullback, Gaddis. Flying past Collin, the Kansas City defender had no choice but to hack down the Union speedster, conceding a dangerous free kick while earning himself a booking. Michael Farfan stepped up and struck the set piece with power and accuracy, but Nielsen flew across to punch his shot away.
With half an hour gone, Sporting finally began to test the Union backline, and Okugo had to be sharp to slow down Bieler and Bobby Convey. Moments later, Carroll was caught out with Convey racing in behind, though Parke slid in to make a vital interception.
On the other end, Okugo nearly opened his MLS goal scoring account on 37 minutes when he rose highest to meet Le Toux’s corner kick, but the his effort flew wide of Nielsen’s near post.
The Union looked comfortable as they coasted towards halftime, but Kansas City grabbed a goal against the run of play on 41 minutes. An awkward header from Okugo and poor spacing from Carroll saw Convey sneak between the pair to hook his cross into the box. Beating Parke to the ball, Bieler headed down beautifully for a wide open Benny Feilhaber. MacMath was able to fight off Feilhaber’s shot from just outside his six yard box, but Zusi pounced on the rebound and slammed it into the net.
Despite having been outplayed for the first stanza, Sporting was buoyed by their late goal and came out on the front foot in the second half. Bieler nearly grabbed the lead on 47 minutes when he spun to hit his shot after Convey found him at the top of the box. Fortunately for the Union, MacMath watched it drift just wide of his near post.
With all the momentum suddenly against them, the Union began to struggle to connect simple passes, with Daniel and Lahoud the worst culprits.
The Union were furious that Besler received no card in the 51st minute when Zusi’s free kick put the defender in on MacMath. Mishitting his attempted shot, Besler fell to the ground where he appeared to slap the ball to his teammate with his right arm. Explosive protests could be heard from the entire Union side, and nerves began to fray.
Hard fouls from Feilhaber and Sinovic only served to escalate the tensions before Convey finally earned a booking for ripping down Daniel. The Union attempted to press on despite Sporting’s physicality, but looked disjointed in the final third. Neither Le Toux or Michael Farfan could create anything after working their way deep into Kansas City’s box.
Substitute C.J. Sapong entered in the 63rd minute and immediately had an impact. Chasing a ball played to the corner, Sapong tangled with Williams, earning a free kick. Zusi was again over the ball, and he hooked the set piece into the area. Uri Rosell broke free of Gaddis’ marking before glancing his header past an advancing MacMath.
Stunned to find themselves behind, the Union struggled to react, with Hackworth finally making his first substitution in the 70th minute, bringing Jack McInerney on for Gabe Farfan. In need of a goal, the Union fell back to lofting hopeful balls into the box, failing to carve out a meaningful chance until the 77th minute, though it took a Sporting mistake to nearly level the match.
After McInerney worked hard to head Daniel’s service back across the face of goal, it was near calamity for Besler who chested the ball casually back to his keeper, failing to realize that he had fallen into the goal on the cross. Unfortunately for the Union, Nielsen managed to smother the ball before it could cross the line.
Nielsen had to be sharp again moments later when McInerney again got his head to a cross. This time the ball came in from Le Toux, and McInerney’s powerful header was kept out well by the Danish goalkeeper. Pressing forward to find their equalizer, Michael Farfan found Daniel at the back post, but Daniel’s attempted trap came off his arm, ending the chance.
At the other end, it was Zusi again who began the move that put the match to bed. Hooking the ball in deep, Daniel failed to get a touch on the cross allowing Chance Myers to cut the ball back on the endline. Shaking free of his mark, Bieler settled at the penalty spot and his first time strike nestled inside the back post, putting the scoreline beyond reach.
Zac MacMath; Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okugo, Jeff Parke, Raymon Gaddis; Michael Lahoud (Roger Torres ’80), Brian Carroll; Keon Daniel (Conor Casey ’84), Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan (Jack McInerney ’70); Sebastien Le Toux
Unused substitutes: Chris Konopka, Bakary Soumare, Danny Cruz, Antoine Hoppenot
Sporting Kansas City
Jimmy Nielsen; Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Chance Myers (Jerome Mechack ’90); Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber (Peterson Joseph ’82), Uri Rosell; Bobby Convey (C.J. Sapong ’63), Claudio Bieler, Graham Zusi
Unused substitutes: Eric Kronberg, Ike Opara, Josh Gardner, Soony Saad
17 – PHI: Le Toux (Daniel)
41 – SKC: Zusi
66 – SKC: Rosell (Zusi)
83 – SKC: Bieler (Myers)
25 – SKC: Collin (caution)
56 – SKC: Convey (caution)
89 – PHI: Gaddis (caution)
|Philadelphia Union||Sporting Kansas City|
|17||Attempts on Goal||7|
|5||Shots on Target||4|
|9||Shots off Target||2|
|22||Open Play Crosses||15|
|1||First Yellow Cards||2|
|0||Second Yellow Cards||0|
|53%||Duels Won %||46%|
|78%||Passing Accuracy %||80%|