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Bedoya’s late equalizer earns resilient road point for the Union at Sporting Kansas City



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

A rotated Union squad looked like they were going to be left on the short end of a spirited performance at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night, but a 95th minute equalizer from Alejando Bedoya spoiled the night for the hosts and secured an impressive 1-1 draw.

The Union and Kansas City both moved to two points with two draws. The Union can now turn their attention to the first leg of the Round of 16 in the Concacaf Champions Cup on Tuesday at Pachuca and be inspired by the late heroics on the road.

Despite a lack of sharpness from the rotated Union squad, the team defended well in its shape to frustrate the hosts. It was a shame that a slip on the ball from Jose Martinez gave Sporting Kansas City and Remi Walter a shot from distance in the 30th minute, that also took an unfortunate deflection off Jack Elliott for a 1-0 lead. 

The Union hung around the rest of the game, made aggressive changes at halftime and throughout the second half to chase a point, but couldn’t quite find the crucial goal on a handful of half chances. 

But, deep into stoppage time, the Union earned a corner kick that was a pretty clear mistake by the referees on a play earlier. A ball went out of play off Mikael Uhre and was wrongly awarded as a throw-in for the Union. And because no video review check was instituted at the stoppage of play on the corner kick, the ensuing sequence counted. 

While the Union didn’t exactly create a ton of chances (finished the game with 0.6 xG), the tenacity was rewarded. Wagner’s delivery crashed off the hands of goalkeeper Tim Melia in traffic, fell to Bedoya, and the club stalwart invented a nifty finish to loft the ball to the back post into the net. 

The SKC crowd, staff and players were furious, and rightly so. Major League Soccer’s ongoing contract holdout with the Professional Referee Organization won’t help the discourse. The Union won’t care. 

On a scrappy night, the Union withstood a ferocious opening salvo from Kansas City, clawed around to halftime down just a goal on solid defending, and slowly pried the game open minute by minute until it yielded a lucky bounce. Without particularly anyone playing a good game, the credit goes to manager Jim Curtin and the team ethos to dig deep for that point. The team’s resiliency in his tenure is a tangible quality that is hard to find at any level of professional soccer. 

Further on the game itself, the Union’s rotation yielded a backline of Olivier Mbaizo at right back, Elliott and Damion Lowe at center back, and then Nathan Harriel, a right-footer, playing at left back. Martinez was at the base of the diamond, Jesus Bueno on the right side, Jack McGlynn on the left, and Jeremy Rafanello making his first career start at the tip. Chris Donovan played up top on the right with Quinn Sullivan as the left sided striker, a break from his recent run of minutes on the right side of the diamond (but a position he has played before). 

SKC rolled out the same lineup from the opener and the game’s pattern was clear. Peter Vermes’ side was going to play with the ball, shift it around their back four around the Union’s narrow shape and then attack when it could spring an overload on the wing. Frequently, the plan was to target the weaker left side of Harriel, playing wrong-footedly, and Sullivan and McGlynn, two young players.  

SKC’s commitment to moving the ball side to side was strong, and both its wingers and attacking midfielder Erik Thommy found the ball in front of backpedaling defenders. The Union largely recovered into a deep block nicely and denied any great chances. 

The goal did come on that trademark pattern of play in the 19th minute, when there was a switch to the SKC right, an overload with an extra midfielder on the top of the box, and a square pass to spring a chance. Martinez read the play and intercepted the ball, only to cough the ball up with a slip that lead to the fortunate goal from Walter.

To the Union’s credit, the team did not falter and stayed disciplined. SKC’s fullbacks of Jake Davis and Tim Leibold are both savvy with the ball, and Davis, Russell and Thommy in particular wanted to make Jack McGlynn make as many defensive rotations and recovery runs as possible. 

The broadcast called out Jeremy Rafanello a bit for his defensive workrate, and while he didn’t jump off the screen, he stayed narrow and forced the SKC center backs sideways. The Union had to give space somewhere and Rafanello, along with Sullivan and Donovan, did enough dirty work that the Union were not defending in their own box for the whole half. 

Sullivan was the livelist player of the first half, but his connection with Donovan wasn’t the same with Uhre or Julian Carranza. And while Sullivan has been dynamite this season, particularly at dribbling, his last step on the ball before distributing or shooting has been a half step ‘stuck’ enough times to be frustrating. He’s young, and it’s impossible to expect a finished product yet … but the evolution of his ability to pick and process the right option once a defense has been scrambled by his dribble, faster, will be the next level. 

McGlynn did a lot of dirty running in this game that also went under the radar, even if he was not his best self on the ball. He looks for the line breaking pass everytime he gets the ball, and that vision makes him special, but the scouting report on him is now to close down those windows. He can move the ball faster and cleaner and then get it again in a dangerous area. Players like him at the next level who lack explosivness to get free of their marks, like Toni Kroos or Kevin De Bruyne, unlock defenses by constantly repositioning to receive the ball in dangerous space. McGlynn will continue to improve at this and surrounded by a better XI, it’s easier for him to do so.

After halftime, Curtin made changes to put his team back in a position to challenge SKC’s control of the game. Kai Wagner came in at left back and Harriel took up the right side for Olivier Mbaizo, Daniel Gazdag replaced Rafanello and Alejandro Bedoya replaced Martinez as Bueno took up the defensive midfield spot. 

It was a slow grind, but the Union battled through to the 60th minute, when Mikael Uhre came on to start running behind SKC. Wagner’s presence was felt too on a perfect set piece in the 72nd minute that was headed just wide at close range. Another long ball into the box was cleared off the crossbar by Leibold.

The game opened up into full chaos and SKC had chances whenever they picked off the Union in buildup with a few 3-on-2s and 4-on-3s. But the game stayed at 1-0, in large part to Damion Loweexcellent defensive positioning and timing. He had a key stand on Johnny Russell in the 87th minute that forced a tame shot at a wide angle. Sullivan even had a 50-yard defensive sprint to stop one of these breaks that was emblematic of the Union’s workrate on the night.

Uhre’s verticality into the left channels was giving the Union a lot more space to operate. The team responded by peppering SKC box late and Markus Anderson, subbed on for McGlynn in the 83rd minute, just missed the frame with a header from six yards out in the 90th minute

That moment felt like when the Union’s impressive effort was not to be, but the madness of MLS stoppage time did its magic a few minutes later and the Union escaped with a draw. 

In an ugly, gritty game, doing the unsavory stuff paid off. It won’t always be that way, but the performance and eventual result should be a nice boost for a Union team scraping through a tough slate to start the season with high ambitions.

Amit grew up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania and has been a Union fan since the franchise started. He has contributed to coverage of the Union and the United States Men's National Team for this website dating back to 2017. At his previous job, Amit was a collegiate sports information director, including time with men's and women's soccer programs. He also was one half of the World Cup After Dark podcast in 2018 and 2022. He is pursuing a master's degree in data science and lives in Chicago.

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