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Preview: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake

Game time: Saturday, 4 p.m., EST

TV: 6abc

Philadelphia Union (1-4-0) travel to Utah to take on defending champion Real Salt Lake (2-3-1) in a match-up of teams that most think have played below their potential this season. The Union have been hurt by three red cards in six games as well as a series of killer mistakes, while RSL has not gotten the kind of play they expect from two of their most well-known players, forward Robbie Findley and goalkeeper Nick Rimando. RSL blew one game with two penalties in 10 minutes, and overall they’ve been an average team this year, matching their opponents almost shot for shot (63 for and 65 against) and goal for goal (9 for and 8 against).

Union fans keep waiting for the team they see on paper to show up in a game. Goalkeeper Chris Seitz has looked better, but he still gave up three goals last week. (Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy could make anyone look bad right now.) The team could be without three starters due to injury and suspension, and that will really be a test, because one of them is Sebastien Le Toux, who has scored five of the Union’s seven goals this season. Still, RSL has holes the Union can exploit. Maybe Saturday’s the day it all comes together for them.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Michael Orozco, Danny Califf, Cristian Arrieta

Midfielders: Fred, Roger Torres, Andrew Jacobson, Shea Salinas

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Real Salt Lake

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando

Defenders: Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran

Midfielders:  Andy Williams, Kyle Beckermann, Javier Morales, Will Johnson

Forwards: Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: Stefani Miglioranzi is out (suspension). FW Sebastien Le Toux (left knee sprain) and DF Jordan Harvey (bruised ribs) are questionable. DF Cristian Arrieta (left toe sprain) is probable.

Real Salt Lake: MF Ned Grabavoy (right MCL sprain), MF Nelson Gonzalez (illness) and FW Fabian Espíndola (left ankle sprain) are questionable.  DF Chris Wingert (left hamstring strain) and DF Jamison Olave (right knee derangement) are probable.

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Real Salt Lake forwards

Robbie Findley was supposed to be RSL’s star, but he’s only started half his team’s games, thanks to a talent logjam at striker, and remains without a goal. Alvaro Saborio has plenty of international experience, but so far that’s translated into just one regular season goal. Still, this is a solid tandem, and if Fabian Espindola is available as a substitute, it’s one of the best threesomes at forward in the league.

For the Union, the defensive breakdowns remain a mystery, as the center back tandem of Danny Califf and Michael Orozco has so far failed to live up to expectations. Few positions on the field require as intrinsic an understanding of each other as the center backs, so maybe it’s just a matter of time before they mesh. But so far, it’s not there yet. Fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Cristian Arrieta are solid, but each comes in nursing an injury. If Harvey sits, Shea Salinas probably starts at left back. He looked decent there in a prior start, but it’s clear the speedy winger is meant for the attack, not defense.

Telling stat: Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz has made 18 saves but given up 11 goals.

Edge: Real Salt Lake

Philadelphia midfield vs. Real Salt Lake midfield

The Union must play without their steadiest midfielder due to Stefani Miglioranzi’s suspension. Salinas could replace him to give the halfbacks a more attacking nature and a tweaked formation, or it could be rookies Toni Stahl or Amobi Okugo. Defensive midfielder Andrew Jacobson has played very well so far, but teenager Roger Torres has been flat the last few games after his nice start and has yet to play a full 90 minutes. The real question is what kind of formation Nowak comes out with. Against the Galaxy, it was more of a 4-2-3-1 than the 4-4-2 (or really, a 4-2-2-2) the Union had been playing much of the season, largely due to Sebastien Le Toux’s injury. Fred will be in the lineup somewhere, that’s for sure.

For RSL, Kyle Beckermann is the Tasmanian Devil who links the defense to the attacking midfielder Javier Morales. As Beckermann is the team’s key on defense, Morales is the key on offense. The wings are ordinary. The Union can win the midfield match-ups if they have the right personnel.

Telling stat: RSL players have been called offsides 20 times this season, compared to just seven for their opponents. Midfielder Will Johnson accounts for four of those.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia forwards vs.  Real Salt Lake defense

If Sebastien Le Toux plays, the Union have an attack. If he doesn’t, well, let’s see what happens if they actually keep all 11 guys on the field. Alejandro Moreno has looked good during even play, more for his passing than anything, but once the Union draw a red card, he disappears, which can’t really be blamed on him. If Le Toux doesn’t play, Nick Zimmerman or Jack McInerney could get a start, unless the Union go with five midfielders again.

RSL’s defense, on the other hand, is pretty ordinary. Jamison Olave is a beast, but this beast cost RSL a game earlier this season when he was called for two penalties in 10 minutes. As for the others? Ordinary, ordinary, and ordinary. They’re backed by penalty shot-stopping king Nick Rimando, but Rimando hasn’t been in top form so far this season.

Telling stat: Through five regular season games, Alejandro Moreno has taken only three shots, none of which have been on goal.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Javier Morales vs. Andrew Jacobson

Chris Seitz might have the “returning to Utah” thing going on, but the Morales-Jacobson match-up will determine who controls the Union’s defensive half. With Miglioranzi out, Jacobson will have to pick up the slack, particularly if Nowak goes offensive by replacing Migs with Salinas. Morales has scored three goals this year, and the attacking midfielder is the creative force that drives RSL’s attack. If you push him off his game, you also do the same to Robbie Findley.

What to expect

It really depends on who plays, doesn’t it? The Union could be without three regulars, or they could be just missing Miglioranzi. Salinas could play anywhere from left back to an attacking winger.  So your guess is as good as mine as this one. (Yep, cop out.) The one thing I do expect is that Ethan Gomberg, perhaps the only Son of Ben in Utah, will be there, so if you’re going, look him up.  (Ethan, I fully expect to hear about your experience after the game in our comments section!)

Prediction

A 1-1 draw. Neither team is lighting up the scoreboard, and each could play without key attackers. Depending on who plays, the Union could steal a win.

(Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz)

3 Comments

  1. Holy crap, Dan, midfield and defense, even? Not even close. Beckerman, Johnson, Wlliams and Morales are light years ahead of Fred, Torres, Jacobson and Okugo/Naka/whoever.

    Did you just start following MLS this season?

    And defense? Nat Borchers, Wingert, Beltran and Jamison Olave are about as solid as it gets. No way Union’s backline is even close to that. Considering the mistakes that captain Califf and Orzoco have made so far, I would count only Harvey as a highlight of this group. Don’t even get me started on Setiz vs. Rimando. Seitz???

    These guys are the defending champs for a reason. And since they only have lost like twice in 3 years at home, doesn’t quite align with you rose-colored glasses…

    Okay…breathe….

    Just tell us like it is and don’t fluff it up or dress it up. This hyper-homerism doesn’t help us evaluate the team. It just makes us more disappointed when they completely don’t play to YOUR expectations.

  2. Can someone clear this up for me… Danny Mwanga was worth spending the number one pick in the draft yet he’s somehow MORE of a project than 12 year old 75 lbs jack mcinerney?

  3. Easy there, Wow. I don’t see where I wrote Philly’s goalie was better than RSL’s or that their defense was either. I didn’t give the Union an edge anywhere. How is that being a homer? Yep, they lost. Maybe predicting a tie (and an even matchup at midfield) was optimistic (if Le Toux played, he’d have made a difference), but the fact is that, with a new team, we’re still figuring out who they are. Right now, it’s obviously not good.

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