Without question, Real Salt Lake has been one of the top sides in Major League Soccer over the last four seasons. The 2009 MLS Cup Champions travel to PPL Park on Friday for their first and only 2012 matchup with the Union. It will be Salt Lake's third game in seven days.
Jason Kreis' side is coming off a comfortable 2-0 midweek win against Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champion's League. RSL's most recent league match was a 2-1 stoppage time home loss to FC Dallas.
Philadelphia is 0-2-2 all time against Real Salt Lake. Both matches at PPL Park have played out to 1-1 draws.
RSL is currently second place in the Western Conference with 42 points and a 13-10-3 record.
Costa Rica international Alvaro Saborio has 14 goals this year, good enough for a second place tie with New York's Kenny Cooper. In just three seasons with RSL, Saborio now has 37 goals in 76 games played. Statistically, this has been his best season in MLS, having already eclipsed his individual goal totals from both 2011 and 2010.
Strike partner Fabian Espindola is second on the team with 6 goals. The Argentina man did not start in the midweek Champion's League tilt, but did enter in the second half. Espindola normally features up top with Saborio in RSL's 4-4-2, but Paulo Jr. got the nod from Kreis on Tuesday night.
When healthy, attacking midfielder Javier Morales is among the best in all of MLS. Naturally, he leads the team with 6 assists in 2012. He's a playmaker in the mold of David Ferreira and Mauro Rosales.
On the wings, look for any combination of Will Johnson, Ned Grabavoy, Jonny Steele, and Luis Gil. None of the four are necessarily speed burners on the outside, but they are mostly solid in possession and intelligent going forward.
Salt Lake's most consistent defensive performers are 2012 All-Star Kyle Beckerman, and long time goalkeeper Nick Rimando. Beckerman will do what he does best – break up attacks, control the tempo of the game, and contribute on both ends of the field. Rimando has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in the league since he started with the Miami Fusion in 2000.
For a number of years, we've seen Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers form one of the better central defensive pairings in Major League Soccer. Olave is now on the shelf with hamstring injury, after starting 18 games in the first half of the season.
In the 2-1 Dallas loss, Borchers was paired with mid-season acquisition Kwame Watson-Siriboe in central defense. Against Tauro, Watson-Siriboe remained at CB, but left back Chris Wingert was moved centrally with Borchers serving a red card suspension. Kenny Mansally played in a modified left back role, with Tony Beltran at right back.
With Chris Schuler also out, Terakazu Tanaka is likely next on the defensive depth chart.
Although RSL is second place in the west, they have not played well in August. Kreis' club is 0-3-0 in league play this month, scoring just two goals in losses to Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas. It's a dip in form for a club that went 3-1-1 in July.
Salt Lake is 4-2-1 in seven games against Eastern Conference teams this season. Philadelphia is 2-4-2 against the Western Conference. This will be the Union's final matchup against a team from the west in 2012.
Philadelphia has scored three goals in four matches against RSL. Keon Daniel is the only one of those goal scorers still active on the Union roster. The Union defense has conceded six goals all-time against Salt Lake.