Match previews / Union

Preview: Union at Real Salt Lake

Gametime: 9pm ET on CSN

Location: Rio Tinto Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT

A cursory look at Saturday’s matchup between fourth place (in the east) Philadelphia Union and fifth place (in the west) Real Salt Lake would indicate these teams are in similar places. Mid-table, low scoring, strong defense. Don’t be fooled.

RSL has played the same number of games and have five more points than Philadelphia. How have they done it?

Winning at home

RSL comes out to control the tempo of the game. Their defenders are ball movers and their midfielders play simple, hard-working support roles behind the strikers and around midfield axis Kyle Beckerman. In fact, if Peter Nowak was going to point to a team around which he was modeling his young Union side, it would be a more dynamic RSL.

Real Salt Lake has two home losses in 2011. In a May defeat to Seattle, they gave up two goals after going down a man. Even so, they managed to pull one back late and make it a close contest. Columbus knocked RSL around by scoring twice in the first ten minutes and holding on for another 80. So the Union should either try to get an extra guy on the pitch or push the game in the early stages. Guess which one I’m advocating?

The Union need to get possession and shots on target early in this match if they hope to knock off RSL at home. Although they have only given up twenty goals this season, eight of those have come on their home ground. They have given up four goals in the first 16 minutes of matches and two in the last ten minutes. Notably, the only time RSL has given up a late lead at home was when Charlie Davies earned a penalty kick by executing a stunt man-level dive in the box.

Missing pieces

Both teams will have defensive stalwarts watching from the sidelines. Carlos Valdes is on a yellow card suspension while Nat Borchers pays penance for his straight red against Chivas USA last weekend. Brian Carroll should return to the Union midfield while Keon Daniel exits for international duty.

Defensively responsible

When RSL came to Philly in June, Jason Kreis tried to clog up the midfield and counterattack through a 4-2-3-1 that released Luis Gil and Jean Alexandre whenever the Union turned over possession. Peter Nowak responded with something Union fans haven’t seen in a good, long while: A defensively responsible midfield quartet behind Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux. Brian Carroll and Kyle Nakazawa anchored while Keon Daniel and Michael Farfan provided width. It worked quite well. RSL scored on their only shot on goal, created by the heinous mugging of Michael Farfan in the midfield circle.

Justin Mapp and Seba Le Toux have many qualities as wingers, but basic defensive shape is not one of them. Le Toux works back hard, but it’s often because he has to recover after leaving his position to roam.

Make the old plan the new plan

In short, this is the perfect match for the Union to properly deploy the resources at their disposal. Namely: Center midfielders. Stefani Miglioranzi may be expected to fill in at center back, and Amobi Okugo should partner with Brian Carroll in the middle to cut off the supply lines to Espindola. Michael Farfan can roam the left flank while Le Toux can rotate between the right side and up top, allowing Sheanon Williams to join the attack when possible.

This leaves Freddy Adu to operate in a free role in the center of the park. Alternating as link between the deep-lying midfielders and Danny Mwanga, Adu must force Kyle Beckerman to drop deep and help Ned Grabavoy defensively. Only by forcing Beckerman out of his favorite areas can the Union ensure that they can push the game while minimizing the gaps left behind.


Don’t expect to see former Union signee Chris Agorsor Saturday. He was performing well in the reserves before he was sidelined with a broken hand.

Freddy Adu returns to Salt Lake for the first time since basically creating the franchise when traded west by Peter Nowak and DC United.

Last time around

Scoreline: Union 1-1 RSL

Goals: Keon Daniel (22nd), Fabian Espindola (53rd)

Head-slapping quote from the Game Notes: “But the visitors pulled level in the 53rd minute, RSL forward Jean Alexandre won the ball from Farfan in the center of the pitch (oh, is that what happened?) and fed the ball ahead to a streaking Espíndola, who cut the ball back on defender Carlos Valdés in the area and fired a low shot past Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón.”

Probable Lineups

Union 4-4-2 diamond

GK: Mondragon

DEF: Garfan, Miglioranzi, Califf, Williams

MID: Okugo, Mapp, Marfan, Adu

FWD: Paunovic, Le Toux

Real Salt Lake 4-4-2 diamond

GK: Rimando

DEF: Russell, Schuler, Olave, Beltran

MID: Beckerman, Warner, Gil, Williams

FWD: Saborio, Paulo, Jr.

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: Levi Houapeu (ankle strain); DOUBTFUL: Brian Carroll (right foot contusion)

Real Salt Lake: OUT: Chris Agorsor (right hand fracture), Nelson Gonzalez (right foot fracture), Javier Morales (left ankle fracture), Chris Wingert (left wrist fracture); DOUBTFUL: Kyle Reynish (right ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: Ned Grabavoy (left adductor strain); PROBABLE: Jean Alexandre (right knee internal pain), Kyle Beckerman (head laceration), Fabian Espindola (left knee contusion), Jamison Olave (left MCL strain), Nick Rimando (back contusion), Robbie Russell (left back spasms), Alvaro Saborio (right knee effusion)


Philadelphia: Carlos Valdes

Real Salt Lake: Nat Borchers

International duty

Philadelphia: Keon Daniel (T&T)

Real Salt Lake: Will Johnson (CAN); Arturo Alvarez (SLV); Alvario Saborio (CRC); Jean Alexandre (HAI)

Suspended next yellow

Philadelphia: Brian Carroll

Real Salt Lake: Kyle Beckerman


Union win 7-1. What, if someone can score six on Columbus this could happen. Have you seen RSL’s injury list??


  1. Earl Gardner says:

    I think we have a better shot at a win here than most people think. Just look at all the banged up and injured players plus people on international duty. Philly has a real opportunity here to take 3 points on the road, let’s hope they do so.

    • I agree that the chance is better than we THINK, but if they haven’t gotten any better in the attacking third of the field, we’re headed for yet another draw. I feel more confidently that they won’t lose, than I do that they’ll win.

  2. Talk about a statement scoreline! 7-1 would be….( . )( . )!!! How about #9 for 3! From open play!!! And Migs for a brace!!! Baby face Califf to score…with his face!!! Mapp to score with his right foot!!! Seriously we’d be lucky to leave with a tie but we would need to score first…

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