Philadelphia Union (0-0-1, 1 point) at Real Salt Lake (0-0-1, 1 point)
What: Major League Soccer regular season match
When: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. (kickoff 9:38 p.m.); Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: The Comcast Network with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas
Radio: None; Online: Streaming video via MLS Live; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday
Eager to put last week’s frustrating scoreless draw behind them, head coach Jim Curtin and his team have their collective minds set on going into Rio Tinto Stadium and doing something they’ve never done before – beat Real Salt Lake.
Yes, the Union are 0-2-5 all-time against RSL, including three straight draws, and while they’ve more than held their own against the typical Western Conference power, getting a result is on Curtin’s mind.
“We’ve worked a lot this week on sharpness in front of goal,” the head coach said. “It’s been a very good week of training. I’m very happy with how the group is and our plan is to go into Salt Lake knowing that we dropped two points against Colorado and to go there and get points on the road, whether it’s three or one.”
Of course, doing so won’t be easy. Real Salt Lake has been dominant at home since their inception and even more so over the last five years. In that span, they’ve won at least 10 games at home each year and have all of – get ready for it – 11 losses. In all since 2010, they’re 53-11-19, winning a ridiculous 67 percent of their games at Rio Tinto Stadium in the regular season.
“They’re a team that has a very strong side and is also one of the toughest places to go in the league,” Curtin said. “Home opener, at altitude – its difficult circumstances but circumstances that I think we’re up for… We respect Salt Lake a great deal, but we know that we can go in there and get a result.”
It won’t be quite the same Salt Lake side that some of the most ardent Union fans will be used to. The typical 4-4-2 diamond midfield the club has employed for years gave way to a 4-3-3 formation in the club’s season opener against Portland Timbers. There, similar to the Union’s opener, RSL battled through a scoreless draw.
So you can count on both teams to attempt to break out of their shell to generate some offense. At least relatively speaking. Exactly how they’ll line up on the field remains to be seen.
“They’re experimenting with a 4-3-3,” Curtin said. “All the talk and relationships I have in the league and even friends on that coaching staff, I believe they’re going to stick with the 4-3-3. We’re prepared for both but I think [Real Salt Lake head coach Jeff Cassar] is going to go with what they’ve worked on.”
While both head coaches have enough to worry about with their respective teams, Cassar might be scratching his head a little bit with Philadelphia’s potential lineup. The team rolled out a 4-4-2 in the season opener, but an injury to C.J. Sapong will alter Curtin’s plans at least a little bit.
Cristian Maidana subbed on for Sapong and common wisdom says the Union might go with that lineup on the road. But Curtin has stressed all preseason long about how much the team’s depth has improved and the capability he has to go with a few different looks.
The constant, though, is adequate defending. Curtin and his staff were more than pleased with the team’s defensive effort against Colorado, holding the Rapids without a shot on target in the opener. For defender Sheanon Williams, that type of effort is just a start.
“We’ve talked about it all preseason,” said Williams, now in his sixth year with the team. “We’ve tried to make a conscious effort to not give up goals all pre-season and understanding that the teams that do well in this league don’t give up goals. So it’s definitely a good start and definitely a lot to build on going forward.”
Williams is well aware of RSL’s tactical change, but stressed the importance of his unit continuing to play together as a group. Like everyone in the locker room, going in and getting a result is what’s important.
“They’re definitely a team that poses a lot of challenges,” he said. “Playing a new formation this year, they have a lot of players that can make certain situations uncomfortable for us. So again, just trying to play defense, trying to possess the ball a little bit more and keep it away from our own 18 as much as possible. I think we did a good job against Colorado and eliminating their chances – I think Rais [Mbolhi] maybe made one save. So if we can mimic that and get a little better on the offensive side, I think that we’ll have a good chance for success.”
What do you think is a game plan for success against Real Salt Lake? Leave your comment below.
Contact Union press officer Chris Winkler at firstname.lastname@example.org.