Match previews

Match preview: Real Salt Lake v. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (7th place, 16 points, 4-4-4) vs. Real Salt Lake (10th place, 11 points, 3-8-2)
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium – Sandy, UT
When: Saturday May 27, 8p.m.
Watch: TCN, MLS Live, KMYU
Whistle: Fotis Bazakos; Peter Balciunas and Apolinar Mariscal; Daniel Radford

Much like the Union, Real Salt Lake fell flat on their face to start the 2017 season. The team quickly sacked manager Jeff Cassar and brought in familiar foe Mike Petke and his sweater collection. The result was a confident but brief turnaround. Just over a week ago, RSL were in the midst of a five-game losing streak before barely pulling out a 2-1 win against a B-side New York City FC squad last Wednesday. They couldn’t capitalize on the momentum, though, and promptly lost to Seattle 1-0 on the road over the weekend.

While Seattle could have easily hung about five more goals on the struggling Monarchs, Philadelphia has yet to ever beat RSL in the teams’ nine meetings. Can the Union make history two ways with their first-ever win over Salt Lake and a franchise-best five-game win streak? It all depends on the Union maintaining their defensive fortitude and finding gaps in an RSL side happy to sit back and clog the field.

Scouting report: Real Salt Lake

Salt Lake’s struggles all go back to the defense. It is, to put it kindly, soft, slow, and full of holes. It’s no coincidence that their five-game losing streak coincided with Kyle Beckerman’s absence. But even the veteran No. 6’s return to the fold hasn’t remedied the back four’s issues. Meanwhile, with the absence of Justen Glad due to both injury and U-20 national team duty (which also claimed talented Homegrown midfielder Brooks Lennon), Mike Petke continues to tinker with defensive personnel, employing four different backlines over the last four games.

Projected Real Salt Lake lineup

And yet, the problems persist. Poor marking, half-hearted tracking, and daft turnovers have continued to plague Salt Lake. The team’s narrow shape and slow reaction time have allowed quick and willing runners to get behind the defense early and often. Last week Jordan Morris, who would have had a hat trick if he finished his chances, absolutely terrorized center backs Aaron Maund and Chris Schuler, catching them flat footed and ball-watching; the week before, Diego Fagundez ran rampant in the Revolution’s 4-0 drubbing.

Over the last six matches Real Salt Lake have been outscored 15-3 (yikes) so the problems are all over the field. New signing Jefferson Savarino looks promising on the right wing and offseason acquisition Albert Rusnak is super talented (think young, fast Haris Medunjanin at the ten spot), but forwards Yura Movsisyan and Joao Plata have been ineffective. The lack of defensive organization surely shares part of the blame, as holding midfielders Beckerman and Luke Mulholland have to sit back and cover the back line, isolating the team’s very real attacking talent. The other issue is the extremely narrow shape Petke has employed. While it has made it harder (supposedly) to break RSL down, it also makes it super easy for opponents to defend, win the ball back, and quickly attack the troubled back four.

  • Suspensions: None
  • Injury Report: OUT – F Chad Barrett (knee surgery), D David Horst (knee surgery); QUESTIONABLE – M Jordan Allen (right quad strain), D Demar Phillips (hamstring injury), D Tony Beltran (back injury)
  • International Duty: D Danny Acosta (US U-20s), D Justen Glad (US U-20s), F Brooks Lennon (US U-20s), F Sebastian Saucedo (US U-20s)
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

It’s no secret that the Union are clicking. After finally taking charge in the second half versus a very, ahem, annoying Colorado team happy to sit back and play the heel, Philadelphia were able to claim their fourth straight victory. It was a rare sight to see the home side finish a game out calmly and on the ball in Chester. Truth be told, the game should have never been so close. The Union were obviously the better team but failed to execute for the first half. Once they settled down and did their thing, the result was never in doubt.

With a visit to the unfriendly confines of Yankee Stadium on the docket for next week, the Union can’t afford to take their opponent, no matter their struggles, lightly.

Defensively, expect more of the same from the Union. I know we keep saying it every week here at PSP, but we may see a return to the starting XI for Keegan Rosenberry. With the narrowness of Salt Lake’s shape and the lack of a wide threat on Rosenberry’s side of the field, his skills on the ball will come in handy breaking down the Monarchs. If Jim Curtin sticks with Ray Gaddis, though, no one will blame him.

In midfield, the Union will have to be wary of the wrecking crew duo of Beckerman and Mulholland. Ilsinho will have his hands full with both (more on this below). But a lot of the Union’s recent success, both offensively and defensively, is thanks to C.J. Sapong. He’s added a pretty marvelous wrinkle to his hold up play by coming back to combine with Union midfielders and have them run off him. If Sapong continues to track back and play off of Ilsinho, he can pull Salt Lake’s hesitant center backs off their line and open space for runs from Chris Pontius and Fafa Picault. If the Union wingers mimic Jordan Morris’ runs from last week, they will have plenty of opportunities to find the back of the net.

Not mentioned yet is the central midfield machine of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. It’s apparent the two have figured out how to play together and with savory results. Bedoya is happy to do the grunt work, chasing down the ball and shuttling it to Medunjanin as he pings passes across the pitch and golazos to the onion bag. Real Salt Lake will likely focus their defensive pressure squarely on Medunjanin, meaning the onus will be on Bedoya to be more of a distributor.

Projected Union lineup


  • Injury Report: OUT – D Josh Yaro (shoulder surgery), Brian Carroll (lumbar disc herniation), M Fabian Herbers (groin); QUESTIONABLE – M Roland Alberg (left quad strain)
  • Suspended: None
  • International Duty: Derrick Jones (US U-20s), Auston Trusty (US U-20s)
Key matchup

Ilsinho vs. Kyle Beckerman. Beckerman loves to sit right where opposing attacking midfielders ply their trade and hassle (and foul) the heck out of them. As a wily MLS vet, Beckerman knows all the tricks and is unlikely to bite on Ilsinho’s fakes. If Ilsinho can pick out his teammates’ runs earlier, the sieve that is the RSL back four will be open for business; if Ilsinho holds on to the ball too long, expect Beckerman to pluck it from the Brazilian with his usual aplomb.

Player to watch

Albert Rusnak. The Slovak playmaker is all kinds of talented but is still finding his footing in the league. As mentioned earlier, he’s awfully similar to a younger, faster Medunjanin playing higher up the pitch. He’s not a crafty dribbler or shifty attacker, but he has terrific vision to pick out dangerous passes and a wicked laser for a left foot. It will once again be on Alejandro Bedoya to shut down the opposing team’s most dangerous threat.

Prediction: Real Salt Lake 1-2 Philadelphia

It’s hard to pick the road team in MLS, but Real Salt Lake is simply not playing well right now. After avoiding a let down versus Colorado last week, the Union should be prepared and unafraid to be on the front foot versus a discombobulated and unconfident RSL side. The Union’s talent out wide bodes well for pushing upfield and finding unmarked runners in the box. RSL has been leaking goals and not scoring many, and Mike Petke has yet to find solutions to either problem. I see both Sapong and Picault causing havoc for Salt Lake and joy for Union fans as The Streak pt. 2 continues.


  1. do you know when the disciplinary report comes out? i wouldn’t be surprised if beckerman is suspended for a pretty bad kick out he did against the sounders

  2. Great chance for 3 points, Petke a nice fellow but a horrific coach with no upside. Can not understand why people like thator Meola are hired. He got cut by the Bulls because they saw thru him. Get the win before the coach is fired. Curtin , although as exciting as warm toast, is like Maurinho compared to Petke in terms of coaching. Be happy with what you got for now. At least Curtin has some upside, maybe?

    • pragmatist says:

      While Petke was out of work, there was a contingent in this city strongly suggesting we should hire him. I’m so glad that didn’t happen.

  3. Red Bull’s fans were very upset with Petke’s firing. He led them to some excellent regular season finishes. Not sure why you say that.

  4. There is no way Curtin will start Rosenberry. Not saying he SHOULDN’T, but I will be shocked if he does.

  5. el Pachyderm says:

    how about a solid point in Rio Tinto.

  6. John Harris says:

    That venue is at 4,000+ feet elevation. Hopefully they went out a day or two early to acclimatize.

    • 4500 feet is what the team says. I am not an expert but I doubt that has much of an effect on trained athletes. It may be a convenient excuse if they lose.

      • pragmatist says:

        It has an effect. Every athlete in every sport will tell you that it has an effect. It doesn’t mean you are crippled by it, but you get gassed faster, no matter how well trained you are. That is why the US Olympic HQ is in Boulder, so when they are at sea level, everything is easier.
        All it takes in most sports is a quick lack of concentration to be the difference in a game. That comes easier if you are not acclimated.

    • they left on thursday and had a direct flight

  7. The only thing that scares me for this game is that I look at RSL and nothing scares me.

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