Sporting Kansas City's next two road opponents -- the Houston Dynamo and Philadelphia Union -- met on Sunday at PPL Park in the MLS Week 29 finale. Philadelphia emerged with a 2-0 victory (highlights) to keep pace in an Eastern Conference playoff race in which all four teams ahead of the Union also won on the weekend, leaving Philadelphia three points out of the final postseason position.
"Something to build on, obviously, with the Cup final coming," Philadelphia head coach Jim Curtin said after his team's victory. "Important, just like it was important for Kansas City to get a little momentum and get a win. Two teams that have been — us and them – that have been kind of up and down lately. So, happy for us in terms of the confidence for the locker room."
With nine days until Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union meet in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final on Sept. 30 at PPL Park, below are nine noteworthy takeaways from the Union's last home match before the championship:
1. The return of Maurice Edu. Philadelphia's captain, and highest paid player, made his first MLS appearance since Aug. 1 and went the full 90 minutes after recovering from a groin injury.
"Confidence is key. Going into a final, you have to be confident," Edu said postgame. "You want to be feeling good, you want to be clicking and you want to have momentum so we built a little today. We have a tough game away at New England and hopefully we can get a positive result there and go into the final feeling confident. That’s the key, to be confident."
2. Edu's return came at the expense of Steven Vitoria, the team's second-highest paid member (as of July 15, according to MLS Players Union) who had played every minute of the previous six MLS matches. Vitoria was on the bench alongside Designated Player Fernando Aristeguieta, who has made only one start for the club since June 6.
"Steven is still in the mix for the final at center back, as well, too," Curtin said postgame. "We all know that he’s been in good form so, again, we have a tough decision to make."
3. Cristian Maidana back from suspension. The 28-year-old Argentine served a two-game ban for spitting at Lee Nguyen in Philadelphia's 1-0 loss at New England on Aug. 29 and was back in the starting lineup on Sunday. Though he was kept off the scoresheet, he maintains a share of the League assist lead at 14 with MLS MVP candidates Benny Feilhaber (SKC) and Sebastian Giovinco (TOR).
"Chaco served his suspension; I won’t get into whether it was the right or wrong amount of games or anything like that. He’s served his time, now he’s itching to get back out on the field, pick up where he left off, which was setting up goals for us, which is what he does best," Curtin said prior to the game. "I think he still has one of the best left feet in the league. He is a guy who can break a defense down, a guy who can make the final pass. So, to add him back into the mix, whether it’s centrally or wide, is a good thing."
4. Breakout performance for Tranquillo Barnetta? Signed on July 29, the Swiss international and World Cup veteran (2006, 2010, 2014) scored the game's opening goal in the third minute and provided an assist on the Union's second-half strike to seal the win.
“I’m happy that today I scored my first goal," Barnetta said live on FOX Sports. "We said that today was very important for us because we have had a lot of good games at home but the results weren’t that good. So today we really wanted to win. I think you saw that on the field. We look forward to this home (U.S. Open Cup) final.”
5. C.J. Sapong matches career-high with ninth goal of campaign. The former Sporting KC striker matched his 2012 goal scoring total with a sliding finish in the 63rd minute on Sunday, catching Houston shorthanded while right back Boniek Garcia was off the field to receive treatment. It marked his second straight game with a goal and was his fifth in five years against the Dynamo.
“It feels good,” Sapong said. “It always feels good to get on the score sheet. I’m glad that, even on a day where I could be a little cleaner and hold the ball up a little more, I was still able to fight for every ball, tire out their defense and get a goal. It’s a good sign for me and a good performance. Hopefully we can string one more and be real sharp for the Cup.”
6. Sebastien Le Toux joins 50/50 club. The seven-year MLS veteran tallied the game-winning assist and in doing so, became only the second active MLS player (along with Brad Davis) to record 50 regular season goals and 50 regular season assists.
“It’s a good thing, I guess,” Le Toux said. “I’m proud about it, it’s a great achievement for me personally. But like I’ve said, all the things I’ve done in my career, I’ll look at it when I’m done playing and I can say I’ve done this in MLS."
7. Defensively, the Union kept their first clean sheet at PPL Park since July 11 -- coincidentally the club's last regular season home win. John McCarthy -- the USL's Goalkeeper and Rookie of the Year in 2014 -- made his third straight start in net for Philadelphia, but Curtin wasn't ready to declare the 23-year-old his starter in the U.S. Open Cup Final despite the strong showing.
"I'm not going to give Peter (Vermes) any head start on who to prepare for," Curtin said. "So, I was happy with the shut out. Obviously, there’s certain things Johnny can improve in the consistency of his goal kicks, little things, little details that he needs to continue to work on and bring. Andre (Blake) is a guy who I’m happy with as well so, again, it’s a bit of a feel thing, you want them to be going into the game confident. So, we do have a plan in place for it. I’ll let you guys kind of speculate as to what you think that might be."
8. Philly pick-me-up. The Union's 2-0 victory came on a sports day in Philadelphia that saw the Eagles fall 20-10 at home to division rivals Dallas, keeping the Eagles in the NFC East basement after two straight losses to open the season. The Phillies - who, in 2008, brought Philadelphia the city's only major sports championship in the last 30 years -- also sit in last place in the NL East and lost their 94th game of the season on Sunday in a 2-1 defeat at Atlanta.
9. Lastly, fans at Sunday's game -- an announced crowd of 14,784 were in attendance in Chester, Pennsylvania -- had the first chance to secure U.S. Open Cup Final t-shirts at the Philadelphia Union's official team store.