The Sons of Ben delegation at Livestrong Sporting Park celebrate after Sébastien Le Toux's game-tying goal in the 63rd minute. (Jonathan Tannenwald/Philly.com)
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - If I had offered you a 1-1 draw between the Union and Sporting Kansas City before kickoff last night, I think you would have taken it.
I certainly would have, given the fact that the Union were missing four of their most important players: Faryd Mondragón, Sheanon Williams, Freddy Adu and Danny Mwanga.
But as I wrote in my game recap for the Inquirer, the Union somehow made things work. In fact, even though they spent almost the entire first half absorbing pressure from Kansas City, in the second half they asserted themselves and had some pretty good looks at goal.
It was impossible to not notice Williams' absence. Kansas City pounded the Union on the left flank, with Kei Kamara and his teammates moving on that side of the field virtually at will.
That Kamara was completely unmarked when he received the pass that eventually led to Omar Bravo's goal was not surprising; that it was the only time all night that Sporting scored was.
In my book, the Union's defense deserves a lot of credit for the result. Carlos Valdés and Brian Carroll both put in impressive performances, and Zac MacMath displayed a confidence going for crosses that was far more mature than his 20 years of age.
Michael Farfan and Roger Torres also deserve praise for their work on offense. Farfan did some good things on the right wing, and of course made the ball-saving run that allowed him to set up Sébastien Le Toux for the Union's goal.
I know I write about Torres a lot, but we saw yet again tonight that he is by far the best player on the Union roster when it comes to holding the ball and directing the offense. No one else on the team has as much of that particular kind of skill.
If someone else comes along who can play the game Torres does, I'll stop writing about him as much.
Nowak got away with taking Torres off in the 72nd minute. He's not usually a guy that plays for draws, but in a situation like last night's he pretty well had to do it. At least Miglioranzi wasn't alone in getting back and defending, and bringing on Zach Pfeffer allowed the midfield to have some offensive spark in it.
The Eastern Conference race is still wide open. Sporting Kansas City is tied with Columbus on 41 points, and the Union are a point behind in third place. Houston can take over third place with a win against FC Dallas tonight, but that game is in Dallas and we all know how good that team has been this year.
Philadelphia will have a shot at jumping to second place on Thursday, when D.C. United comes to PPL Park for the first time. United have 35 points with only 27 games played, but still really need a result against the Union to remain in the playoff race.
D.C. have plenty to offer in attack, with potential MLS MVP Dwayne de Rosario and Andy Najar playing behind Charlie Davies. But they are weak on defense, and have conceded more goals (40) than they have scored this season (39).
A win is there for the taking for the Union if they go and get it. Which sounds awfully familiar at this point.
Here's a transcript of what Peter Nowak had to say after last night's game. Afterward, you'll find a video with some interviews from the Union locker room.
On his expectations coming into the night, given how many players were missing:
I always say that we need to raise the expectations of our team, regardless of their age or experience. You have to enter the game with the mentality that you have to win the game, or that you are able to win the game.
I think that there was a lot of heart today. I applaud the team's effort because they put a lot of heart in today, in a very difficult situation and a very physical game. They got the job done, so it's a very positive sign - especially being behind, and also given the young group we had.
It's a good sign, good for their confidence and we're looking forward to the last five games of the regular season.
On Zac MacMath's performance:
It's not only him. I think Jack McInerney came in and changed the game as well, with his speed and his movement, and tried to hold the ball for us. He got a little bit unlucky with that shot, but he brought us life.
I think Zac was doing a great job with the back line as well, and Amobi played very well - Amobi Okugo and Brian Carroll. Even Zach Pfeffer, in a big game like that, another big game for him, and you have to be ready. Whether he's going to get pushed off the ball or not, he's a kid that still wants to learn, and especially in games like that.
On what he meant by it being a physical game:
A physical game. I think - what were the stats for fouls against us?
[One committed by Sporting in the first half and four by the Union; for the game, five committed by Sporting and seven by the Union.]
There still was a lot of tackling and pushing around, I think. Kansas City is very well-known for that, and I think they did a pretty good job to keep the tempo, keep it a high-intensity game, which was good for our kids as well. That's what I meant about it being a physical game - that it was high-intensity.
On the ball and off the ball, there was good football that everyone appreciated, because both sides put a lot of into this game. I understand that the home fans could be a little disappointed with the result, but I think overall it was a very good MLS game.
On whether he was happy with getting a draw, considering the circumstances:
I believe that every point at this stage is very valuable, regardless of whether you play home or away. We see in the standings how tight the race is for the playoff spots. Even from our home game against New England, every point is valuable right now.
So of course, we are happy with the effort as a coaching staff, as a techinical staff, because it's going to move us forward. You don't want to have a good game against Columbus and then come here and lose.
We've been preaching all season long, and even last year, that we need to be consistent with our game, and I think this was another game where we played a good full 90 minutes of high intensity, and we didn't back down a bit. So this is a good sign for a young group like that.
On his first visit to Livestrong Sporting Park, and what it represents for the growth of MLS:
I've been in the league 15, 16 years, and when I came in, it was completely different. I am amazed how far we are right now, and we're stil growing. I applaud all the owners who put in their hearts and their money, to make sure that the fans and the teams will have the best possible opportunity to play in the best enivronments.
It's a lot of changes. I'm sure that sooner or later, most teams will have a facility like that. I'm very impressed with what's going on here - the fans can even watch the press conferences. That's something new for me as well.
I believe that when we go in this direction, and have more teams with this kind of facility, and our facility, and Red Bull Arena - you name it, that's stuff that is going to make our league more internationally visible.
Everybody will want to come and play here. Not only the teams that you have a partnership with, but also international players will want to play in this kind of environment. All of us benefit from this kind of stuff, so it's great.
I've always believed in this league's future, because I know how much heart and money they have put in, and I believe it's going to get even better.