Although Real Salt Lake have hit a bit of a rough patch, the Union will have their hands full on Saturday at PPL Park (4:00pm, 6abc).
As the Union prepare to take on the league's stingiest defense, they understand that their own defense – also one of the top units in MLS – will be key to taking three points.
“We just need to do our work,” defender Carlos Valdes told philadelphiaunion.com after training on Friday. “We have to be focused in the back and make sure they don’t get good opportunities. [The defense] needs to give the rest of the team a sense of security so they can go down and score.”
After losing two of their last three games, including a 2-1 defeat in Columbus on Wednesday, Salt Lake will be eager to get back on track.
On the other side, the Union are in the midst of a three-game unbeaten streak and seven-game home unbeaten run. With the New York Red Bulls and Crew hot on their heels, Philadelphia are looking to defend their perch atop the Eastern Conference.
“The most important thing is to win,” Valdes said. “It’s going to be a difficult match. But we have the team and the strengths to get the three points at home.”
“Even though [Salt Lake] have hit a difficult stretch, they will still be a tough test,” added defensive midfielder Brian Carroll. “They are well-balanced and have good depth, so our job is to make it hard for them to get comfortable. We have to maintain possession and move the ball well.”
While Peter Nowak's side are enjoying unprecedented success in the franchise's short history, they know it's a long season.
“We have to stay grounded and live in the moment," said defender Danny Califf. "It’s important to focus on the match in front of you and then move on to the next one and get ready for that one. Don’t look ahead. You can’t. I think we have a great attitude as a club."
Coming off the club's first-ever road unbeaten streak – a 6-2 win in Toronto followed by a 1-1 draw in Colorado last Saturday – the Union will look to capitalize against a Salt Lake team missing Javier Morales (broken ankle) and three players to Gold Cup duty, star striker Álvaro Saborío, Will Johnson and Arturo Alvarez.
The Union refuse to underestimate the CONCACAF finalists, however, and know they'll be up against an organized opponent on Saturday.
“[Salt Lake] move the ball very well from front to back,” said Carroll. “They are really comfortable in possession and it’s up to us to disrupt them as much as possible.”