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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Real Salt Lake

Game time: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Live Well HD Network, MyNetwork TV

Philadelphia Union (4-10-3) host Real Salt Lake (10-4-5) in a match-up of teams on very different sorts of streaks. The Union have lost two straight games (against two of the league’s best teams, to be sure), while RSL is one of the league’s hottest teams, their streak set off in part by a May 8 win over the Union. When the two met that day in Utah, RSL came into the match at just 2-3-1, having done little to prove last year’s playoff run to the title was anything but a fluke. Since that May 8 match, RSL has lost just once, to a very good Dallas team that defeated a 10-man Union squad this past weekend.

As well as they’ve played, RSL comes into this game shorthanded. Striker Robbie Findley played last night in the U.S.-Brazil match and is unlikely to start against the Union, while fellow striker Alvaro Saborio is similarly out international duty for Costa Rica. The Union may be even worse off, however, with injuries potentially sidelining starters Stefani Miglioranzi, Danny Mwanga and Shea Salinas, the latter of whom is definitely out.

Likewise, the Union’s goalkeeping situation has reached the point where many fans are becoming impatient and wanting improvement to a position that has cost the Union several games. Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz faces his old team with something to prove, and so does the rest of his team. Manager Peter Nowak is known as a master motivator. Can he kill this short losing streak before it gets out of hand?

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal

Midfielders: Fred, Justin Mapp, Eduardo Coudet, Kyle Nakazawa

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Real Salt Lake

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando

Defenders: Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert

Midfielders:  Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckermann, Javier Morales, Will Johnson

Forwards: Fabian Espindola, Pablo Campos

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); QUESTIONABLE: FW Danny Mwanga (L groin); MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain); DF Danny Califf (L rib contusion); PROBABLE: DF Jordan Harvey (L groin strain); MF Roger Torres (R ankle sprain). GK Brad Knighton is suspended.

Real Salt Lake: PROBABLE: MF Kyle Beckerman (L foot tendon tear); MF Javier Morales (L ankle sprain)

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Real Salt Lake attackers

Saborio and Findley are RSL’s two leading scorers, so their absence is big. But RSL may have the league’s best depth at striker, able to deploy Argentine Fabian Espindola in their place. Espindola has put just six of his 22 shots on goal this season, but four have hit the net. RSL’s fourth forward, Pablo Campos, is less proven, so if there’s one place things can even up for the Union, it’s at this match-up. Attacking midfielder Javier Morales is a creative presence who needs to be tracked, however.

The Union come in bolstered by last week’s acquisition of Colombian center back Juan Diego Gonzalez, who started against Dallas on Sunday in his first game with the team.  By many accounts, Gonzalez may be the guy to help solidify the back line, as Danny Califf has played well at the other center back slot. Left back Jordan Harvey, who’s been asked to play more of an attacking role for the Union of late, should return to the starting lineup, while Michael Orozco Fiscal should start at right back. Cristian Arrieta is probably the odd man out, but Orozco still hasn’t fully adjusted to playing fullback instead of center back.

The real question for the Union remains at goalkeeper. Brad Knighton got red-carded 25 minutes into his first start for the Union against Dallas on Sunday. Regular starter Chris Seitz came in and made a couple of terrific saves, but there’s only so much you can do when a man down. Could the sitdown for Seitz prompt a turnaround to a season that has seen the league’s youngest starting goalkeeper be the only one to go without a shutout?

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Real Salt Lake midfield

RSL’s midfield has established itself as one of the league’s best. Holding midfielder Kyle Beckermann is an all-star who does all the dirty work and keeps things glued together. Attacking mid Morales has made a name for himself as one of the league’s best and most creative playmakers. Will Johnson is steady on one flank, while Ned Grabavoy has played well when given the opportunity to start on the other.

The Union remain unsettled at midfield. Newly acquired Justin Mapp has alternately impressed and maddened on one wing, but what can’t be debated is the new dimension he brings to the team with his ability to dribble through defenses. Fred has similarly frustrated Union fans on the other side. At times, he’s a fan favorite. At other times, fans want to throw him in the nearby Delaware River. Either way, he’s playing out of position on one attacking flank of a 4-4-2 that plays more like a 4-2-2-2. Eduardo Coudet has shown good vision and ball possession since joining the Union in July, but Miglioranzi’s injury could force him to play deeper than he likes. Kyle Nakazawa got the start for Migs against Dallas, and while his free kicks are terrific, the rookie is mostly invisible in the run of play. Andrew Jacobson could start for Migs.

Edge: RSL

Philadelphia forwards vs.  Real Salt Lake defense

Jamison Olave (6-3, 210) is a beast at center back, while his partner Nat Porchers does all the little things that allow Olave to roam more freely. They’re an excellent pairing, and they’re a very tall one, something that gave the Union problems against Columbus a week ago. Robbie Russell is solid at right back, while Chris Wingert has solidified a hold on the left back slot. One of the league’s best goalkeepers, Nick Rimando, bolsters this defense and is known as a penalty kick expert, with last year’s showing in the MLS Cup permanently establishing that reputation.

The Union will bring out Sebastien Le Toux and Alejandro Moreno. Le Toux has been all-league and is a candidate for MVP. His confidence is at an all-time high, and no team has found a way to really take him out of the game yet because he just keeps running. Moreno finally scored his first goal this season, but that hasn’t quieted the calls for his replacement in the lineup, as his form has dipped this summer. Danny Mwanga’s injury may make that irrelevant though. Forwards score goals in streaks, so maybe the first one can crack the seal for Moreno, who has been better known this season for his good passing and holdup play as well as the beating he’s taking from opposing defenders.

Edge: RSL

Individual match-up to watch

Javier Morales vs. the Union holding midfielders

Without Findley and Saborio up front, Morales becomes the key man to stop for the Union. If they shut him down, the Union could collapse RSL’s attack. Neither Coudet or Nakazawa is a shutdown midfielder, so Miglioranzi’s injury could become more significant. If Jacobson is in, he could shadow Morales all game.

Prediction

A 1-1 draw. RSL is the better team, but winning on the road without your two best strikers is tough to do, particularly considering PPL Park’s atmosphere. Nowak is too good a coach not to use the Dallas mess as a chance to motivate his team, and Chris Seitz is really at a point where he needs to answer the critics. Sitting down for the first time this season, against Dallas, might do the trick.

5 Comments

  1. One thing I would love to see — give Jack Mac a start at the forward position over Moreno. In his limited appearances, he’s shown that he can find open space and fill it but the timing hasn’t quite been there. I think that if he played a full game he and Le Toux could connect and create more than a couple of scoring opportunities.

    • I was thinking the same thing. However, Nowak isn’t going to miss a chance to use the confidence Moreno has recouped by finally scoring.

      • Agreed. Mac’s time will come. Moreno is now. I’m still optimistic about him. I really like guys who play hard and leave everything on the field, and Moreno does. I think he has a few more games up to regain his early season form, albeit plus some goals.

  2. I would rather see Arrieta in their than Harvey, they both have not been the greatest in D, but at least arrieta has something going forward. This is Moreno’s opportunity to build confidence and hopefully start scoring more. If Dallas game was a fluke and Moreno is still working hard as always, but not scoring I would like to see Jac Mac in the game instead. Worst case scenario is Jac Mac takes some of the pressure off Le Toux as the secret about him is out and teams have been marking him very well recently.

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