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New lineup, similar show: Sporting Kansas City draws at Philadelphia Union



Credit: Thad Bell

Coming off a 4-1 loss at home to Seattle Sounders last Saturday, Sporting Kansas City’s trip to Philadelphia to take on the Union ironically meant the only way to go was up. Defensively anyway. Sporting gained a shutout but failed to score for the fourth match of the young season. The point for the 0-0 draw was highlighted by a veteran’s return, a new player’s debut, and the return of another.

No wins and only two goals in five matches had been the start for Sporting Kansas City (0-3-2) in the 2023 MLS season. The last time the club went without a win in their first five was 14 seasons ago in 1999. A lack of productivity does not lead to continuity, nor does a lack of responsibility. Thus, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes made a number of changes to his First XI for their Saturday evening match at Philadelphia Union:

Newly signed Dany Rosero made his debut at left center back, as did Robert Castellanos at right center back, while Robert Voloder switched from left center back to left back. Backstopping them for the first time in 2023 was veteran goalkeeper Tim Melia. Additionally, Nemanja Radoja gained his first start at defensive midfield, pushing Remi Walter to the number eight, and Team captain Johnny Russell got his first start after returning to the lineup with a substitute appearance last week.

The Union (2-3) – the defending Eastern Conference Champions – had lost three of their last four and had their 24-game streak at home without a loss busted by Orlando last week. Combined with a clash with Liga Mx side Atlas FC in the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals ahead on Tuesday, tonight’s match was especially important for the Union.

Both sides endured a weather delay before the match kicked off at 7:40pm CT, over an hour late.

Why this match mattered (checks notes from two weeks ago for Sporting Kansas City):

  1. The longer the scorewinless streak drags on for Sporting, the more it affects the team. With two more losses, Sporting would reach the team record of seven on a row to start a season.
  2. Points matter in every part of the MLS schedule.
  3. Sporting’s fans, though faithful, thirst for joy.
  4. The new entries into the lineup have a chance to cement more playing time.
  5. For the Union, a win gives confidence and momentum heading into Tuesday’s quarterfinal first leg.

Decisive actions

Low key

Rosero dominates the dojo… with an acrobatic hitch kick attempt from a poor clearance that flew just wide of Andre Blake’s net in the third minute.

What was said? Russell took a free kick around the 31st minute. Just before he did, he clearly heard something said that inspired a “What the…?” look in his countenance.

Kansas City, we have a threat: Rosero, who definitely came to play on the night, dove to get a piece of a cross in the 37th minute and forced a self-defense type save from Blake, showing again that he is an attacking threat in the box.

Melia moment…s: After right back Graham Zusi and Rosero were split, Melia made big to eliminate the Union’s first serious threat in the 54th minute. Five minutes later, the vet went jet, going airborne for a dramatic save. But a more dramatic one waited in the 79th. The 36-year-old went vertical to deny a drive near the upper right corner of his net.


Sporting had to blow an early sub and an early sub window when Radoja had to exit due to an apparent hamstring issue (a continuation actually). Roger Espinoza stepped on in place.

For the first time since November of 2021, Alan Pulido stepped onto the pitch for Sporting Kansas City in the 62nd minute for striker Willy Agada. As part of a double switch, Khiry Shelton came on for Russell.

The Big ones

See Melia above.

Tactical focus

Sporting moved the ball smartly flank to flank and everywhere in between, most importantly through the middle of the park where there was ample space. Would KC be able to take advantage?

Let’s get it out there, it was a wide open midfield for both sides in the first half. Sporting’s midfield organization took a hit with Espinoza coming in for Radoja and Walter moving back to the six. But defensive organization be damned! Let the players play.

More confrontational… was Sporting individually. Rosero, Castellanos, Radoja, and Voloder were more physical and tighter in their marking than previous iterations.

In the second half, the Union began to find teammates in spaces between lines and eat away at Sporting’s midfield.

Telling stat

At halftime, Philadelphia had no shots on goal.

By the end, the teams were even in shots at four, but the Union won the xG battle.

Moment of the match

Melia’s save were critical. However, the injury to Radoja loosened the midfield for the Union.

Sporting Kansas City Man of the match

Goalkeeper Tim Melia, in his first start of the season, did what a goalkeeper is supposed to: He kept his side in the match.

Going forward

Sporting will host the winless Colorado Rapids (0-3-3) next Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park, while the Union will travel to TQL Stadium to face Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati (4-0-2).

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