The Full 90

With game looming tonight, Sporting KC wary of Philly

Updated: 2012-10-24T21:14:17Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

It’s been 88 days since Sporting Kansas City felt the sting of defeat.

If the club can extend that streak one more day with a win or draw tonight against the Philadelphia Union, Sporting KC will capture a second straight Eastern Conference regular-season crown — yet another accomplishment unprecedented in club history,

“It’s exciting to have the chance to do it at home in front of our fans and give them another title to celebrate,” starting right back Chance Myers said.

However, Sporting KC, 17-8-9, isn’t under the illusion that getting such a result against the Union will be easy.

“A lot of teams, when they have nothing to lose, come and play their best game, because everybody is fighting for a job,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “We expect their best shot. We’ve never had it easy against Philly anyway since they came into the league.”

This is Philadelphia’s first (and obviously only) trip to Livestrong this season.

During an MLS battle June 23 in Philadelphia, the Union, 10-16-6, rocked Sporting KC 4-0. It remains the only game — aside from an exhibition with Montpellier-Herault SC — in which Sporting KC allowed more than two goals this season.

Back in Philadelphia less than three weeks later, Sporting KC redeemed itself with a 2-0 romp in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

“I expect them to be dangerous, because they can let it all hang out if they want,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “That means they can go after it and send numbers forward. That’s stuff we’re going to have to deal with over the course of 90 minutes. We have to be really locked in. This is not by any means an easy match. It’s going to be a difficult one, but we’re pretty aware that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Four days ago in New York, the more desperate Red Bulls took it to Sporting KC. The Union could press the game from the opening whistle in much the same way.

“They have nothing to lose, so they’re going to come full throttle and try to score some goals quick,” Myers said. “We expect them to put in a really good effort.”

Basically, this is Philadelphia’s playoff game. All it can play for right now is spoiling Sporting KC’s conference title hopes.

Also on the line, Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is sitting on 15 shutouts — one shy of the MLS and club record of 16 set by Tony Meola in 2000.

“I’d like to see him get the record,” center back Matt Besler said. “It’s not the No. 1 focus — we’d like to win the game — but if we get a shutout, we have a good shot of winning games. And that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”

If Sporting KC can notch that shutout, it would guarantee at least a draw and the Eastern Conference title — making it good for both the team and Nielsen, who might wrap up MLS goalkeeper of the year honors with such a record.

Espinoza, who suffered a gnarly sprained right ankle in a 1-1 draw Oct. 7 at Columbus, returned to training this week after sitting out Saturday’s scoreless draw against the New York Red Bulls in Harrison. N.J.

He told MLSSoccer.com Monday that wouldn’t have been healthy enough to play if the season finale had been that night, but Espinoza was optimistic that he could play with two more days of rest.

“It’s getting better, but I still may not be 100 percent,” Espinoza said. “I can say I’m lot better than before.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.

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