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Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Real Salt Lake

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Game time: Saturday, 4 p..m.

TV: 6abc (likely ABC 6.2)

Philadelphia Union will host a depleted Real Salt Lake squad this Saturday at PPL Park.

RSL (6-3-2) comes in having won just one of four games without playmaker Javier Morales, who broke his ankle May 8 on a brutal tackle from behind by Chivas USA’s Marcos Mondaini. (And that lone win came against Vancouver, an expansion franchise struggling so much that they already fired their head coach.) RSL will be without two other key starters, midfielder Will Johnson and forward Alvaro Saborio (the latter of whom has struggled mightily this year with not a single goal in six matches, so perhaps his absence isn’t as rough as it would have been last year). And this will be RSL’s third match in a week.

If not for all that, this might be the toughest matchup of the season for Philadelphia (6-3-3)—but then again, this is still RSL, perhaps the league’s deepest roster. RSL’s back five is one of the best in the league, and their center back pairing of Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers is probably the only one in Major League Soccer better than the two patrolling PPL Park. Nick Rimando is one of the league’s best goalies and will likely be available, despite his presence on the U.S. National Team’s Gold Cup roster as a third keeper. At midfield, Kyle Beckermann is a scrappy holding midfielder who helps form that strong spine for RSL’s defense and possession ballgame, but the rest of the midfield definitely loses something absent Morales and Johnson. Up top, Fabian Espindola has put nearly half of his shots on goal this season, and midfielder Jean Alexandre has impressed in a surprise turn at forward in Saborio’s absence.

As for the Union, they’re unbeaten in their last three matches, and their attack has come alive in the absence of Carlos Ruiz, who is on international duty. While Sebastien Le Toux hasn’t hit the net in the run of play yet this season, Danny Mwanga has flourished alongside him in recent games. Le Toux’s touch around goal has been off, but his passing and movement with and without the ball have helped create a more fluid attack in Ruiz’s absence. Likewise, so too has some terrific midfield play. Kyle Nakazawa is settling in to the center midfield spot in front of Brian Carroll and playing very well while doing so, while the Farfan twins impress every time they get on the field. Justin Mapp could return from injury on Saturday, as could Michael Farfan, who is listed as probable for Saturday. If either sits, look for the ever-poised Keon Daniel to continue to get time in their stead. Behind them, Carroll has played a very, very solid role at center defensive midfield, enough so that Union manager should feel comfortable by now with a more attacking presence beside him.

Behind them, we all know about the great defense in back—or at least we do here in Philadelphia. Only center back Danny Califf and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon are on the all-star ballot because of a silly way of designing the ballot this year, asking media members to nominate six players per team. Why only six? Doesn’t each team start 11? Is the MLS web site so weak that it can’t support an all-star ballot that big? (It shouldn’t be—not anymore, at least.) We have no answers. All we know is that Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams are deserving all-stars on the right side of the defense, and left back Jordan Harvey is having a good enough season that he too deserves to be in the discussion. Saturday’s game could be a statement game.

Probable starters


Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams

Midfielders: Keon Daniel, Kyle Nakazawa, Brian Carroll, Gabriel Farfan

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux

Real Salt Lake

Goalkeeper: Nick Rimando

Defenders: Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, Tony Beltran

Midfielders: Nelson Gonzalez, Kyle Beckermann, Ned Grababoy, Collen Warner

Forwards: Fabian Espindola, Jean Alexandre

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – OUT: MF Amobi Okugo (L ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Justin Mapp (R groin strain); PROBABLE: MF Michael Farfan (R groin strain); MF Stefani Miglioranzi (R groin strain). Carlos Ruiz is on international duty.

Real Salt Lake – OUT: MF Javier Morales (L ankle fracture dislocation); FW Paulo Jr. (R hip flexor strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Robbie Russell (L hamstring strain); PROBABLE: MF Collen Warner (L ankle sprain). Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson are on international duty.


The Union win 2-1. Sebastien Le Toux scores. Yes, it’s just a matter of time for him. RSL is missing too many key players in the attack, and this is their third game in seven days in three locations (Salt Lake City, Columbus and now Philadelphia). The Union should win this one.


  1. Real is my second favorite team in the MLS. That being said, kick their two-wife having behinds, Union- there is power in the hands of the worker.

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