PREVIEW: UNION AT REAL SALT LAKE
Philadelphia Union (1-4-0) will look to bounce back after three straight losses in league play when they take on Real Salt Lake (2-3-1) on Saturday at 4:00pm ET on 6abc (pre-game show begins at 3:30pm). Playing at Rio Tinto stadium against the defending MLS Cup champions won’t be easy, but the Union are hungry for their first road win.
Philadelphia could be without two starters, with Stefani Miglioranzi already ruled out due to suspension from a red card and Sebastien Le Toux day-to-day after suffering a left knee injury on April 27th in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier against New York. Real Salt Lake will also likely be getting one of their stars back, Javier Morales, who has missed time recently due to a groin injury and strep throat.
The Union need to find a way to keep eleven men on the field for 90 minutes, something that hasn’t happened in three out of five MLS matches. If they can do that, the expansion club has shown an ability to compete with anybody, other than the first half against the Galaxy last week. Even in that matchup though, on the road against the best team in MLS, the Union controlled more than their fair share of possession in between LA’s goals in the first half and outscored the Galaxy in the second half despite being down a man.
Philadelphia needs to convert the vast potential they've shown into points, and there's no time like the present. So let’s take a position-by-position look at each club heading into Saturday’s showdown.
Goalkeeper – Philadelphia Union
Despite receiving much of the blame so far this season, Chris Seitz’s play hasn’t warranted the extent of the criticism he’s received. In fact, the first-year starter has played well the last few games, committing no costly errors. Oddly enough, his performance against LA may have been his finest yet, despite the fact that the three goals were the most he’s given up all season.
Seitz couldn’t have done anything about the first goal scored by A.J. DeLaGarza, he made a strong save on Alan Gordon’s initial header that eventually led to the second goal, and Buddle was left all alone on the third goal. The former Real Salt Lake backup, who will receive his MLS Cup ring this weekend, also made two notable stops, coming out to break up a dangerous run by Gordon in the first half and then deflecting an absolute rocket from Chris Birchall in the second half.
Goalkeeper – Real Salt Lake
Rimando is the reigning MLS Cup MVP and the 11-year veteran hasn’t shown any drop-off in recent years, but his .579 save percentage through 6 games would easily be the work mark of his career. Much of that has to do with the four penalty kicks RSL has given up through six games, a disturbing trend for the reigning champs. Rimando is undoubtedly a strength for Real Salt Lake, and his diving save off a Joseph Nane header against Toronto was a thing of beauty. At just 5-9, Rimando is an anomaly at this level, but his lack of height is compensated for by superior athleticism and instincts in the box. With a strong defense in front of him that has only surrendered 19 shots in 6 games, the Union will have to be sharp to beat Rimando on Saturday.
Defense – Philadelphia Union
The Union backline hasn’t lived up to its potential through five games, giving up an average of 2.2 goals per game, second worst in the league behind D.C. United. Playing almost two full games worth of action down a man hasn’t helped, but this unit knows it can improve greatly nevertheless. Better performances are ahead, as there really isn’t a weak link in the bunch with Danny Califf and Michael Orozco occupying the middle of the field and Cristian Arrieta and Jordan Harvey on the wings.
The defensive unit will have to do a better job of marking in and around the penalty area than they did against LA, with two of the three goals coming from wide-open on-rushing opponents. Keeping LA’s dynamic attack scoreless in the second half without the aid of Miglioranzi holding down the midfield was very impressive, but they must show that type of form from start to finish on Saturday. Preventing Robbie Findley from using his speed in space and pressuring Javier Morales so that he can’t roam free in the attacking third will be vital for a defense looking to find its rhythm.
Defense – Real Salt Lake
RSL’s backline is well above average, with Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers patrolling the middle as one of MLS’ most formidable central defensive pairings. Olave is an imposing physical presence at 6-3, 210 pounds, and he uses his size and speed effectively on the defensive side of the ball as well as on set pieces in the opponent’s area. RSL’s 2009 Defender of the Year registered three goal tallies last year and knocked home his first of the 2010 campaign last week. Borchers is equally effective and as durable as they come, playing in 72 of 73 regular season and playoff games for the Claret-and-Cobalt since joining the club in 2008.
With Robbie Russell on the left and Tony Beltran, the #3 overall pick in the 2008 SuperDraft, on the right, RSL’s defense doesn’t have a glaring weakness. Russell fell out of the starting XI late last season, but redeemed himself in a big way by netting the MLS Cup clinching PK against LA. Russell has reclaimed his starting role, starting all six games so far in 2010. Beltran’s speed and versatility out wide complement the size across the rest of the backline, providing balance to a unit that would be among the stingiest in the league this year if not for penalty kicks accounting for half the club’s goals against.
Midfield – Philadelphia Union
The loss of Miglioranzi hurts, as the veteran provides a calming presence and consistency that’ll be tough to replace. Andrew Jacobson will have to pick up some of his slack as the only other holding midfielder who has seen regular minutes this year. Jacobson has made very few mistakes and will have to continue that trend on Saturday.
Shea Salinas is a good bet to draw another start, with the winger’s speed causing issues against LA. Few midfielders or defenders in the league can keep up with his pace.
Fred will likely be back to his normal role in the midfield after drawing a start up top in Sebastien Le Toux’s stead last week, but his role remains the same either way. The Brazilian showed his ability to create in space last week when he recovered a dispossessed ball in Philadelphia’s territory, dribbled more than half the length of the pitch, and found Jack McInerney streaking to his right for the Union’s lone goal of the match. If Fred starts up top again, Amobi Okugo could get the call, unless Manager Peter Nowak decides to shift around his formation.
Many fans have wondered why the dynamic 18-year-old Roger Torres has been pulled so early in matches, and one has to think it has something to do with circumstances. Torres is best when granted the freedom to push up in the attack regularly, a luxury that disappears when playing down a man. Only time will tell if Torres will begin lasting longer into games, and only Nowak and Coach John Hackworth really know the answer to that question.
Midfield – Real Salt Lake
The core of Real Salt Lake’s team resides in the heart of its midfield, with Kyle Beckerman providing some of the best two-way play in the league and Javier Morales being one of the more dangerous attacking midfielders in MLS. RSL’s Captain and a 2009 MLS All-Star Nominee, Beckerman is an invaluable anchor whose contributions can’t be measured by his stats. Morales had a down year statistically last year, with only a goal and five assists after registering 6 goals and a whopping 15 assists the year before. Despite missing the last few games, Morales should play on Saturday and seems to be back to his 2008 form, with 3 goals and an assist in just 3 starts this season.
The midfield rounds out with Will Johnson and Andy Williams, unless Ned Grabavoy is able to return to health and take Williams’ spot in the starting XI. Don’t expect RSL to rush Grabavoy back though, especially after Williams’ best performance of the season last week. Williams had a hand in both goals and his strike from just outside the box last week was impressive.
Attack – Philadelphia Union
Le Toux’s health is the big question mark here. The Frenchman sat out against LA, but is apparently around 90% healthy and able to run in a straight line without any problems. Changes of direction and striking the ball present an entirely different set of risks though, so this becomes a classic risk vs reward situation. It might be in Le Toux's and the club’s best interest to hold him out again to avoid re-aggravating the injury. Le Toux made the trip, so this decision should come down to the wire.
Alejandro Moreno’s place in the lineup isn’t in question, and he’s a safe bet to throw his body around, maintain possession near RSL’s goal and create opportunities for his teammates. Moreno is still looking for his first goal though, and Saturday would be as good of a time as any, especially given the uncertainty around Le Toux.
If Le Toux is unable to go, the fan favorite to replace him will undoubtedly be McInerney after the 17-year-old became just the 8th player to score a goal in Major League Soccer history before legally being able to buy a lottery ticket. The youngster has never drawn a regular season start, but it’s clear that he’s mature beyond his years and able to make an impact even at such a ripe age.
Attack - Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake’s star striker is Robbie Findley, who began to realize his potential last season with a team-high 12 goals. Findley is off to a slow start this year with no goals, but a groin injury is mostly to blame.
Joining Findley will be Alvaro Saborio, whose role in the starting lineup should be cemented with Fabian Espíndola nursing a left ankle sprain. Saborio, the Costa Rican international, has plenty of professional experience, having spent six years with Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa and two years with Swiss side FC Sion. With a goal and two assists on the season already, Saborio has proven to be a nice offseason acquisition for RSL.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: DF Toni Stahl (L knee strain)
QUESTIONABLE: FW Sebastien Le Toux (L knee sprain)
Real Salt Lake Injury Report
Date: Saturday, May 8, 2010
Time: 4:00pm ET (3:30pm pre-game show)
Location: Rio Tinto Stadium; Sandy, UT