By MICHAEL KLINE
The Philadelphia Union got off to a strong start in the 2013 MLS season opener, but Graham Zusi and Sporting Kansas City made sure they were the ones to take all three points at PPL Park.
Inspired by a goal and two assists from Zusi, Sporting KC rallied from a poor first half and defeated the Union, 3-1, on Saturday afternoon. Philadelphia initially went ahead on a goal from fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux, but Zusi was able to shift the momentum in the visitors’ favor when he netted on a rebound just before halftime.
Zusi then went on to help set up two goals in a second half that was much different from the opening 45 minutes, with Uri Rosell and Designated Player Claudio Bieler providing the finishes in front of 18,000-plus Union fans.
Sporting KC came into the match at the top of the Eastern Conference in nearly every preseason prediction panel, but they struggled throughout much of the first half against Philadelphia.
Within three minutes, Gabriel Farfan was through on goal and forced Jimmy Nielsen to parry his shot away. Sebastien Le Toux was there for a rebound, but did poorly and hit it wide.
Through the first 10 minutes it was all Philadelphia and the Union finally found the breakthrough shortly thereafter. Keon Daniel found a good pocket of space and sent in a wonderfully weighted over-head through ball to fan favorite Sebastien Le Toux, who took it down magically and beat Nielsen on his near post.
Sporting KC struggled on the ball, with their midfielders having difficulty finding space, connecting on passes and moving the ball forward. The defenders were being eaten alive on long balls, and Farfan, in particular, was having a field day down the left hand side.
The Union, on the other hand, looked sharp. They were winning all of the 50-50 challenges and were out-hustling the opposition. The hosts’ efforts almost paid off a second time when a defense-splitting run from Sheanon Williams put Le Toux in perfect position to bag a second, but the French striker pulled it wide, an attempt he surely wished he had back.
After withstanding the Philadelphia onslaught, Kansas City managed to find the equalizer against the run of play. On their first real attack of the match, Bobby Convey put a threatening cross into the box which Claudio Bieler headed down into the path of Benny Feilhaber. The American playmaker’s shot went right at goalkeeper Zac MacMath, but the rebound landed at the feet of Zusi before being calmly blasted into the top right corner to make things level going into halftime.
The second half began with Philadelphia retreating and it was clear that Sporting KC’s goal just before half crushed their momentum. Philadelphia looked lazy and uninterested, a stark contract from their first half performance.
All of the pressing the Union midfielders and forwards did in the first 45 wore them out for the second half and the midfield battle was quickly lost. It was only a matter of time before Sporting KC scored again, and they did in the 65th minute.
After being substituted into the match three minutes earlier, C.J. Sapong won a free kick in a dangerous area of Philadelphia’s half. Kansas City then doubled their lead when Zusi fired the set piece into the box and Oriol Rosell headed it into an empty net. Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath played the cross extremely poorly, getting caught in the crowd and was left watching as the ball slowly bounced into the net.
Momentum had completely turned and Philadelphia looked out of the match. The result was just a formality at that point and it was made official when Bieler scored the visitors’ third. Following another Zusi cross, Chance Myers cut the ball across the box to an unmarked Claudio Bieler, who slotted it home on his Sporting Kansas City debut to ensure the victory for his new club.
What do you think of Sporting KC’s 3-1 win over the Union? Who impressed/disappointed you? Optimistic about Philadelphia this season after seeing those opening 45 minutes?
Share your thoughts below.