Sporting KC aims to continue home dominance vs. Union (Jul 06, 2017)

BY AP • July 5, 2017

Sporting Kansas City will look to regain its home swagger as it hosts the Philadelphia Union in a rare Thursday contest at Children's Mercy Park.

Sporting Kansas City is smarting after a lackluster first half and several missed second-half opportunities resulted in just a point following a 1-1 draw versus the Portland Timbers last Saturday.

Sporting Kansas City still owns an 18-match home unbeaten streak dating back more than a year. The team is 6-0-3 at home this season and is unbeaten in seven straight matches over all competitions.

While SKC (8-4-7, 31 points, tied for first in the Western Conference) is looking to rebound from a small bump in the road, Philadelphia still is trying to recover from a horrendous start to the season. An 0-4-4 start after eight matches dug a hole for the Union, who have gone 6-3-0 in their last nine matches.

The Union now stand 6-7-4, and the 22 points have them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just six out of the final playoff spot. The road has been rough on Philadelphia, going just 1-4-2 in seven matches away from Talen Energy Stadium.

Sporting Kansas City has used a dominating defense to tie FC Dallas at the top of the Western Conference table. The club has allowed just 13 goals through 19 games, three fewer than any other team.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia leads MLS in shutouts (nine), save percentage (79.7) and goals against average (0.68). Center back Ike Opara has not only anchored the back line, he also has scored a team-best four goals during the month of June, including a pair in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Philadelphia will enter with no shortage of confidence. A 3-0 defeat of the New England Revolution on Sunday included goals from Ilsinho, Roland Alberg and former Sporting KC forward C.J. Sapong, who has already tied his regular season career high with nine goals in 2017. Sapong is complemented by a pair of playmaking midfielders, as first-year Bosnian Haris Medunjanin is tied for fifth in MLS with seven assists and veteran Chris Pontius has contributed six assists of his own.

"Coming off a very good result against New England, I'm happy with the way the team is defending," Union head coach Jim Curtin said. "The seven clean sheets and the strong goal differential has been a key indicator of the success of a team.

"Kansas City is a team that is very deep. Yes, they're going to be missing a few key players, but so are we. The challenge is there. (It's) a big test, a tough place to go on the road."

Sporting Kansas City once again will be without the U.S. men's national team trio of Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi. Their absence allowed Daniel Salloi to score the first goal of his MLS career.

"His progression has been very good," SKC manager Peter Vermes said of Salloi. "There's always aspects that a player needs to continue to get better at, but if there's one thing that I've said about him is that anytime he's in or around the box, he's deadly."

Leading scorer Gerso Fernandes is listed as questionable after dislocating his right shoulder in the first half against Portland. Finally, midfielder Roger Espinoza will serve a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.

For Philadelphia, a mix of injuries and international obligations will prevent the Union from fielding a full lineup. Goalkeeper Andre Blake (Jamaica) and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (United States) are representing their respective countries at the Gold Cup, while Warren Creavalle (hamstring), Jack Elliott (tibia) and Fabian Herbers (abdomen) are all questionable.

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