After the Union took care of business at home on Saturday, many eyes turned to Sandy, Utah. It was an early season meeting between Western Conference powers, a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup Final between Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy.
But this much anticipated matchup went south fast, at least for Galaxy fans. All guns blazing, Real Salt Lake came out on fire, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes en route to a 4-1 thrashing.
Yet to concede this year, an undefeated Philadelphia Union travel to Los Angeles on Saturday expecting a much different Galaxy squad. Peter Nowak's side is viewing that 4-1 scoreline as an aberration.
"They're a group that has a lot of experience on their team, and anytime they take a thumping like they did in Salt Lake, they're going to be looking to bounce back," said defender Danny Califf on Wednesday. "We anticipate they'll come out with a lot of energy. They're going to really try to pressure us and put us on the back foot early in front of their home crowd, in order to make a statement that last week was a fluke for them."
"It was a difficult game for them in Salt Lake," added Nowak, "and I think those previous games against Seattle and New England weren't [their best efforts either]. "Playing at home, they have enough quality to bounce back, and the last thing we need to think is that LA will follow up with the form they had in Salt Lake City. I think they have enough experience to put a good team on the field regardless [of personnel]. They have enough quality to be a very dangerous team."
Last year's affair at the Home Depot Center was tough sledding for Philadelphia. The Union found themselves down 1-0 after a strike from A.J. Delagarza just 53 seconds into the match. Edson Buddle added a brace as the Galaxy won comfortably, 3-1. Stefani Miglioranzi was red carded in the match, and the lone bright spot was a late consolation goal for Jack McInerney, his first in MLS.
Not surprisingly, the Union hope the second time around is a different story. But they also know they're in for another formidable challenge.
"I expect a very tough game, especially because they went to Salt Lake and the game unfolded the way it did," said Miglioranzi. "They're a team that's been together for a long time. All the way from the last player on the roster to the coaching staff – they're very proud and they're looking forward to making amends. Unfortunately, it's against us, so we have to step up to the plate and do the things we've been talking about doing to get a result there."
Miglioranzi had two separate stints with LA, and came to the Union from the Galaxy through the 2009 MLS Expansion Draft. And he's not the only ex-Galaxy member. Califf and Carlos Ruiz were part of the LA squad that won it all in 2002, with Ruiz earning MLS Cup MVP honors.
All three are part of the new-look Union now, a squad that appears far more prepared to deal with tough road matches.
Last year's team did manage to compete admirably with the 2010 Supporters' Shield winners at PPL Park – the home leg against the Galaxy was a much more evenly contested match. The Union created chances on net and pressured LA, but couldn't break through. An Edson Buddle goal, off a David Beckham corner kick, was enough for a 1-0 Galaxy win.
Buddle scored three out of LA's four goals against the Union last year, but he's long gone, now plying his trade with F.C. Ingolstadt of the German second division. The 2011 Galaxy attack features Chad Barrett, Mike Magee, and former Red Bull star Juan Pablo Ángel, who has battled injuries in limited minutes this year.
"It's going be a completely different mentality going in," explained Califf. "I think Chad Barrett is strong, with a lot of pace. Mike Magee, he 'thinks' the game a little bit more, he's not a real physical player, but he gets himself in good spots. Juan Pablo is incredible in the box, just with his movement and finding spaces and scoring goals. Then you have a guy like Landon [Donovan], who kind of floats around and does his thing, makes good runs in behind.
"I think it's going to be a very different type of game. I think Vancouver came in and they were solid. They tried to play pretty direct up to their front runners, to lay balls off and try to put their other guys in behind our defense. I think LA is going to look to build a little bit more, and look to use their possession to move us and try to make us make mistakes, and have a few individuals take advantage."
If there's one thing in common between the Union and Galaxy, it's their offensive production this year. In three games, the Galaxy have scored three goals – one in each game.
The Union have scored two goals in two games, winning a pair of 1-0 shutouts.
Neither team has found their form in the final third. But with attacking talent like Ángel, Sebastien Le Toux, Donovan, Danny Mwanga and Ruiz, either side is capable of breaking out at any minute.
"We still need to improve offensively," Nowak reiterated after preaching the same message following Saturday's win. "There were some things against Vancouver that I didn't like. We watched the film together Wednesday, and we're going to make things better. It's going to be another difficult game for us. It's another game we look forward to, because the last two years they've been a top team in MLS.
"It's [a good test] to see where we are at this point."