SKC eyes extended lead against Philadelphia

Kansas City, KS ( - Sporting Kansas City will be out to extend its lead atop the Eastern Conference on Friday when it plays host to the Philadelphia Union at Sporting Park.

Kansas City enters the weekend on 38 points, one point better than D.C. United, which earned a 3-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday.

But while D.C. United holds a game in hand over SKC, Sporting can restore its four-point advantage at the summit, for the time being, by getting a fifth successive league win on Friday.

It's something the club seems poised to accomplish after it came from behind to get a 2-1 victory at Toronto last time out, despite playing with 10 men for a period of the match.

"The one thing that this team has over the years is building up a good culture at the club, a really strong mentality," Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said after the match. "It is difficult to come into a place like this and get points when it is 11 vs. 11 and more importantly when you lose a man. It just goes to show that not only is the experience starting to come out, that strong mentality of you might bend me a little but you aren't going to break me. Guys are showing that here, a lot of the young guys were getting experience early as we were missing so many guys, are now contributing and helping us get points."

Kansas City is in good stead to finish at the Eastern Conference summit, a feat that Vermes believes would go a long way toward helping the team repeat as MLS Cup champions.

"It's really internal motivation, you have to know what you are going after," said Vermes. "Last year the thing that really resonated with our team was that if you put yourself in a good position towards the end of the season in the table and through the playoffs, there is a chance of home advantage in the MLS Cup final. That notion is a very big carry at the end of the year."

Philadelphia, meanwhile, is simply hoping to make a postseason appearance.

The Union enter the match on 23 points for the season, three points adrift of a playoff spot.

A turning point in the club's season came on June 10 when John Hackworth was relieved of his coaching duties. The Union have gone on to produce a 5-2-2 record across all competitions under interim boss Jim Curtin.

"We are in a really good place right now," Curtin told the club's official website. "We are finding goals and putting ourselves in good spots to pull points out of these matches now, which is key if we are looking to lock up another playoff appearance. It's not going to be easy, we don't have many favorable games down the stretch, but it's important for this club to know that we are no stranger to tough games and in quite a few of them, we've come out on top."

Sporting certainly figures to be a stern test for the Union as Kansas City will be looking to avenge a 2-1 home loss to Philadelphia on May 14.

Dom Dwyer, who sits level with Erick Torres for second place in the MLS scoring lead, had pulled Sporting level with just 10 minutes to play in that affair, but Christian Maidana struck just one minute later to grant the visiting Union all three points.