Heading into their quarterfinal matchup at the MLS is Back Tournament, both Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union are understandably confident.
The Union have conceded just twice in their four games in Orlando, while Sporting have dominated large stretches of their four games. They're among the tournament leaders in expected goals, chances created and possession, all per Opta. With the impressive clubs set to clash Thursday at 7 p.m. CT on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, neither is backing down.
"Of course," Union forward Kacper Przybylko said when asked about being a tournament favorite. "Every game you win, you get more confidence. ... I see my team in the finals."
Obviously if Przybylko sees Philly in the championship match Aug. 11, he's expecting a win against Peter Vermes' team.
"Confident guy," Sporting winger Johnny Russell said of Przybylko's comments. "They have to get through us to get there. We’ll see how that plays out.”
Sporting needed penalties against the Vancouver Whitecaps to navigate through the Round of 16. The match went down to the wire despite Sporting outshooting Vancouver 36-8 and holding 63% of possession, as the Whitecaps proved a stubborn team to break down. The Union have been difficult to break down as well, though with a vastly different style.
The Whitecaps sat deep and restricted space in behind. Philly are the inverse of those tactics, intent on high pressing and winning the ball as far away from their goal as possible. Either way, Sporting feel prepared.
"For us against Vancouver, we were in control of the game from the first minute to the 90th minute," Vermes said. "While we didn't score, we created incredible chances. The goalkeeper had some good saves and we missed some sitters, that happens sometimes. Obviously Philadelphia pose a different challenge for us, this game will be different. They're not only a good defensive team, but a team that's good in attack. We'll be up for the challenge."
Union head coach Jim Curtin also struck a respectful yet confident tone, with both clubs aware of their impending test.
"There are a lot of teams playing good soccer right now and we'd like to think we're one of them," Curtin said. "Kansas City is the gold standard of our league in terms of consistency. The way Peter has built that franchise is admirable, but we think we're starting to move in that right direction as well."