KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Union manager Peter Nowak has a history of achieving results with improvised lineups. But on Friday night, Nowak faced one of the most challenging tasks of his tenure.
Four of the Union's most important players - goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, defender Sheanon Williams, midfielder Freddy Adu, and forward Danny Mwanga - were unable to play against Sporting Kansas City due to injuries.
But despite all those absences, the Union found a way to get a point once again. Sebastien Le Toux's goal in the 63d minute allowed the Union to escape Livestrong Sporting Park with a come-from-behind, 1-1 draw in front of a sellout crowd of 18,778 fans.
"I applaud the team's effort, because they put a lot of heart in there in a very difficult situation and a very physical game," Nowak said. "It's a very positive sign, especially coming from behind."
The Union (9-7-13, 40 points) spent much of the game under pressure from Kansas City's fast and skilled forwards. But central defenders Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes marshaled the back line, and Zac MacMath made a number of impressive saves.
Only once did Kansas City (10-9-11, 41 points) get past MacMath, in the 56th minute. The goal showed just how much the Union missed Williams on their back line.
Graham Zusi played a pass from the center of the field to an unmarked Kei Kamara on the left wing just outside of the 18-yard box - usually Williams' territory to defend. With plenty of time to look across the field, Kamara sent a perfect cross for Omar Bravo to tap in.
The Union struck back just seven minutes later. Roger Torres played a low cross through the box that nearly went out of bounds, but Michael Farfan kept it in play by inches. He laid a pass back for Le Toux, who slotted a first-time shot past Sporting keeper Jimmy Nielsen.
That silenced almost the entire crowd at Kansas City's spectacular new home, which opened in June at a cost of $200 million. The only noise in the stadium came from the approximately 50 members of the Union's Sons of Ben supporters club who traveled west for the occasion.
"I give all the credit to Michael for my goal," Le Toux said. "He gave me [the ball] on a platter."
Sporting surged forward repeatedly after that, but MacMath made a number of impressive saves to preserve the tie - and keep the Union's hopes alive of gaining an automatic playoff spot as one of the Eastern Conference's top three teams.
"You don't want to have a good game against Columbus [last Saturday] and then come in here and lose," Nowak said. "I think this was another game where we played a good, full 90 minutes and didn't back down."