MLS Focus: Philadelphia heads to Open Cup final after picking up two biggest wins of season

The Philadelphia Union followed up its biggest win of the season -- a 1-0 victory at Seattle that ended the Sounders' nine-game winning streak -- with what head coach Jim Curtin termed an even bigger win on Sunday -- a 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday to move closer to clinching a playoff berth.

What made the win impressive is that the Union rested nine starters ahead of Wednesday's U.S. Open Cup final at Houston and still beat Sporting Kansas City, which came into the weekend in first place in the Western Conference.

In their first starts of the season, Jay Simpson and John McCarthy were the stars. Simpson scored both goals in the second half off assists by Alejandro Bedoya, and McCarthy made six saves for the shutout.

Cameroonian Olivier Mbaizo made his MLS debut, starting at right back. He was one of four starters 21 years old or younger along with Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty and Derrick Jones.

"Before the game," said Curtin, "we talked about what it means to be a true team. I think that, what I meant by that and what I explained in the pre-game talk was any 11 guys that are together, fighting for each other with belief, attacking and defending as one can beat any group of talented players."

Curtin was particularly happy for Simpson, who arrived last season on a TAM deal from England but scored only one goal in 22 games and was often booed by the Philadelphia fans. He had played just 41 minutes in 2018 before Sunday's game.

"I am not surprised he scored," said Curtin. "He is a great player. He scores all the time in training and he has been increasingly sharp the past two weeks. I think he has taken an unfair criticism from our fan base. The Philly booing mentality, which I have taken as well. I have a place in my heart for when I hear it directed towards him, so if people want to be critical of someone, please be critical of me for not playing him. That is more fair because he has quality."

Club record for wins. The wins over Seattle and Sporting KC give the Union 14 wins for the season, a club record. The Union is 14-12-4 with 46 points, two shy of the club record set in 2011.

More important, Philadelphia opened up a six-point lead on sixth-place Montreal and 11-point leads on D.C. United and New England in its bid to qualify for the playoffs for only the third time in nine seasons.

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