Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
7 p.m. on TCN, Pregame Live at 6:30
The Union kept afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race last weekend by completing the season sweep of the Columbus Crew. Now, they have an opportunity to do something they’ve only done once this season — win back-to-back games. The Union (10-9-7) face Sporting Kansas City (11-11-5) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here are five things to know for the matchup.
1. Rookie power
In a surprising move, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers to accompany Keegan Rosenberry as starters on the road against the Crew.
And the 2016 MLS SuperDraft trio, starting for the first time together, didn’t disappoint.
“If you were to tell me before the game started that we’d get goals from Herbers and Rosenberry, I would probably tell you you were a little crazy,” Curtin said. “But we’re happy for them. I think it’s a big step in a tough atmosphere.”
Herbers opened the scoring for the Union by powering home a deflection off his own original shot. The goal was followed by a Rosenberry game-winning goal from a Tranquillo Barnetta pass into the box.
“For Keegan, for Josh, for Herbers to step up the way they did in what I would call a big boy game, I think it shows them growing as players,” Curtin said. “It’s a real game out there where a team is fighting and is desperate to make a playoff push, we had to be alert for 90 minutes.”
The three had such an impact on last Saturday’s match that Curtin is likely to go to the kids again against SKC. Herbers made the start in place of Ilsinho, who is currently fighting off a foot injury.
“We’re a club that trusts young players and believes in playing young players,” Curtin said. “They rewarded us.”
2. Bedoya’s impact
Although he won’t make the scoresheet, in three games, Alejandro Bedoya has impressed Curtin with his poise in the midfield and big-game calmness with the ball.
“To think he’s in his preseason now is a scary thing,” said Curtin, who has played Bedoya 90 minutes in his last two games. “Three great performances and it’s only going to get better. I can’t say enough positives about him.”
What Curtin likes the most is Bedoya’s ability to keep possession and relax the game, something that helps a club overflowing with young players.
“He has been a great influence on us keeping possession,” Curtin said. “It’s the simple balls that don’t show up in the stat sheet, where he catches it and just plays it to our outside back. That gives us time to catch our breath — it’s so valuable.”
SKC has noticed it, too.
“They added a very good player, someone with a lot of experience and commitment to the game, especially in the midfield” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “He poses a problem for any team they play against. For us, we have to be compact, we have to be smart and we have to take our chances really well.”
3. Tired SKC
The Union are catching Sporting Kansas City at the right time. Vermes’ club is winded after just one home match in its last seven.
“We’ve had a lot of travel these last couple weeks, so going into this Philly game we want to conserve as much energy as possible,” SKC’s Benny Feilhaber said. “They are a really good team this year, so we’ll have our hands full. But we’re confident we can go in and get something out of it.”
And the club has a right to be tired. In 11 days from Saturday’s match, SKC will have played in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, home at Children’s Mercy Park, then away at BC Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps, before traveling cross-country to face the Union.
“Every game is very important, so we have to be able to give everything we’ve got, even though we’re running on fumes a little bit here,” Vermes said. “We’re going to have to dig down deep and muster up something with Philadelphia being as good as they are.”
4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: It doesn’t appear that Ilsinho will return in time for Saturday’s match, leaving Herbers as a starter on the right side of the midfield. He has two goals and four assists in five starts this season.
SKC: Although Dom Dwyer has four goals in his last five matches, Feilhaber has the ability to get everyone involved. The veteran midfielder has a goal and three assists in his last four matches.
5. This and that
• The Union are 4-5-4 against SKC all-time and an even 2-2-2 at home.
• Despite being in playoff position, the Union have yet to win back-to-back games more than once this season. The only time they’ve claimed consecutive wins was on March 12 and March 20. And that started with a win over the Crew.
• Each scoring a goal against the Crew, Rosenberry and Herbers were the first two rookies to score in a match since Colorado Rapids’ Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers did it in 2013.