Preview: Union vs Real Salt Lake

Frustrating outcomes in the last three matches have left the Philadelphia Union (4-10-3) seeking a result to restore confidence with the always-dangerous Real Salt Lake (10-4-5) coming to PPL Park Wednesday. While the Union’s playoff hopes are still alive, a draw vs New England followed by losses to Columbus and Dallas have left the club facing a steep uphill climb in their last 13 matches of the season.

Tickets: Philadelphia Union vs Real Salt Lake

Life won’t be any easier against the defending MLS Cup champions, a side that has lost just one league match since the start of May, a span of 14 contests. Sitting in second place in the Western Conference, RSL are coming off a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Kansas City that brought their road record to 3-4-2, the best mark after eight away matches in club history and just one victory shy of their 2009 full-season total. After three losses in their first four road games, Salt Lake have lost away from Rio Tinto Stadium just once since – a 2-0 loss at FC Dallas on July 24.

In the last match between the two clubs, the Union suffered a 3-0 loss after characteristically controlling the early portion of the match. The expansion side should be in better shape Wednesday, with the match being played in front of the hometown fans and Salt Lake likely without their top two strikers. The Union are currently 3-2-2 at home, with a 2-2-1 record at PPL Park.

Alvaro Saborio has already been ruled out so he can play in Costa Rica’s Wednesday friendly at Paraguay, while Robbie Findley is expected to rejoin the club Wednesday but may not play following his inclusion in the U.S. National Team friendly against Brazil on Tuesday. If Findley is out as well, the Union will be lucky to miss the striker, who has scored four goals in the last six games – all since returning from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

WATCH: GK Chris Seitz on facing RSL, his former club

Sebastien Le Toux and the Union’s offense won’t have an easy run of it against the league’s second best defensive unit, which is averaging only 0.79 goals against on the season. Salt Lake’s defensive core is rock solid up the middle, with two-time MLS Cup champion Nick Rimando -- who won his first title in 2004 playing for Union Manager Peter Nowak – in net, arguably MLS’ best central defensive pairing in Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, and all-star Kyle Beckerman thwarting onrushing opponents as one of the premier holding midfielders in MLS.

Philadelphia is hoping rookie forward Danny Mwanga, recently upgraded from questionable to probable, can return to action after missing the last two matches with a groin injury. While Mwanga and Findley, both of whom won PAC-10 Freshman of the Year honors with Oregon State, likely won't see the field together, Mwanga's return would be a nice boost for the Union's offense. 

Matchups to watch:

Javier Morales vs Eduardo Coudet

As if Real Salt Lake wasn’t strong enough in the center of the pitch, Morales extends their quality through to the attacking third as one of the top midfield maestros in MLS. After a sub-par 2009 season in comparison to a masterful 2008 that saw the playmaker notch six goals and 15 assists, the all-star starter is in top form again this year with four goals and six assists. The 30-year-old Argentine routinely breaks down opposing defenses with the ball at his feet, and his deadly service makes things easy for teammates on the receiving end. In order to contain Morales, the Union will need to deny possession as much as possible and limit the midfielder’s space when he does have the ball.

That responsibility will often fall to Coudet, who has played mostly in a holding role for Nowak’s side. Coudet has responded well to Miglioranzi’s injury, which necessitated increased defensive duties for the former River Plate member. The Union often use ‘Chacho’ as a crutch when nothing presents itself moving forward -- which plays into his strength of maintaining possession in traffic and calmly finding the open man -- but minimizing Morales’ impact on Wednesday will be the real key for Philadelphia.

Fred vs Kyle Beckerman

This matchup is essentially the Morales-Coudet battle in reverse in terms of the dynamic between one midfielder who is usually pressing forward and another who is making sure the proverbial anchor is firmly in place. Fred’s ability to maneuver in the middle of the pitch and distribute with numbers in the Union’s favor will be paramount against a stingy Salt Lake side.

In his way will be Beckerman, who is never easy to penetrate in RSL’s territory and often sets up the counter attack after winning the ball from an opposing attacker. If Fred can use his quickness on the ball to open passing lanes, there may be opportunities to catch Beckerman and Salt Lake’s defense off guard long enough for Philadelphia to break through.

The Union vs themselves

It’s been said time and time again, but the fact remains - nobody has beaten Philadelphia quite as badly or as often as they’ve beaten themselves. The technical staff’s game plans have been sound, and in truth the execution is often sharp. But seemingly without fail, something goes wrong. Whether it be a mistake in the back or a lack of finishing at a critical juncture in the match, the Union have rarely done themselves any favors. The byproduct is routinely coming away with less points than the flow of the match dictates, and all too often with no points at all.

While frustrating, the overall form and work ethic displayed by the first-year club is far more encouraging than, say, being thoroughly outclassed time and time again. Ultimately, the Union are still missing that killer instinct, the one that will empower them to finish their chances more efficiently and earn points even when not at their best.

No matter how dominant Philadelphia is in the run of play, or how sound their tactical approach, the club won't be ready to take the next step until they stop holding themselves back. Against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday -- and over the course of the rest of the season for that matter -- the Union’s fate will likely be determined by how quickly they cease to undermine their own quality.

Last Match Highlights

Dallas 3, Philadelphia

Salt Lake 1, Kansas City 1

Philadelphia Union Injury Report

OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture)

QUESTIONABLE: MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain)

PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); FW Danny Mwanga (L groin)

Real Salt Lake Injury Report

PROBABLE: FW Pablo Campos (R calf contusion), DF Chris Schuler (L hamstring strain)

Match Information

Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Time: 7:30pm ET

Location: PPL Park (Chester, PA)

Television: Live Well HD Network, MyNetwork TV - WQMY

Talent: JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play); Glenn Davis (Color Analyst)