Last season, the Union tore apart Real Salt Lake 4-1. Playing Nick Rimando and company on the road, though? That’s a far more difficult task.
Six wins out of eight home matches, with an eight to one goal differential over the past four? That’s a strong record, and the reason is that playing at home gives Mike Petke’s side more freedom in attack, and that freedom is essential for the flourishing of Sebastian Saucedo, Albert Rusnak, Joao Plata, Damir Kreilach, and Corey Baird. Saucedo and Plata are excellent 1v1 players, while Baird excels when he can spring behind a backline before it recognizes his run. Of the group, only Kreilach and Rusnak are particularly skilled at moving the ball back to front, and neither has much interest in playing a big role in the buildup phase of the game.
The result is a back-and-forth style with a chaotic twist that favors the individual skill of RSL’s front players. New addition Sam Johnson is a poacher, so winning 1v1 battles and finding the import from the Swedish league is a fairly good strategy given the roster.
The place to exploit RSL is on the wings in transition. Both the fullbacks and wingers can be pulled out of position, so the key is to attack them at pace after winning the ball back. This might suggest the Union use a 4-2-3-1 shape on the road that helps create isolations in wide areas, but with Sergio Santos struggling to find his top gear, Curtin may remain with the shape that will allow him, at some point, to pair Kacper Przybylko and Andrew Wooten up top.
RSL and the Union do battle at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 13 on the LiveWell Network and live streaming on PhiladelphiaUnion.com