Union match reports

Match report: Philadelphia Union 4-1 Real Salt Lake

Photo: Earl Gardner

Saturday night’s match turned into a celebration at Talen Energy Stadium as Philadelphia Union cruised to a 4-1 win over Real Salt Lake. The night was reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, as the blue and gold smoke of the River End was indistinguishable from the fog obstructing the view of the Commodore Barry Bridge.

Goals from Marcus Epps and Borek Dockal in the first half and Ilsinho and Keegan Rosenberry in the second sealed the club’s first-ever victory over Real Salt Lake.

Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin made only one change to the side that beat Montreal Impact 2-0 last Saturday en route to securing the Union’s first road victory in 364 days. Before the match, Curtin seemed like he’d have to find an answer at forward. Against the Impact, Cory Burke scored his first MLS goal but also picked up his first red card. The choice was made easier when C.J. Sapong was deemed healthy enough to start, returning from a leg injury.

Real Salt Lake manager Mike Petke made two changes to his team after their 3-2 victory over D.C. United. One, though, was a name Petke would have liked to have on the field. Real Salt Lake were without one of their most dangerous attackers, Joao Plata, who picked up a knock last week. Brooks Lennon filled the void, moving from right back to left wing.

After the opening whistle, the Union looked the better of the two teams, but it was Real Salt Lake who nearly opened the scoring. With a quick cut in the 11th minute, winger Jefferson Savarino created enough space to curl one toward the far corner and force a diving save from goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Seconds later, Union winger Fafa Picault had a nearly identical opportunity that was matched by Real goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

Those two chances broke open a match that was previously staid in its approach. The two clubs combined for nine shots on goal over the next 10 minutes, culminating in the game’s opening goal.

In the 21st minute, Picault collected a loose ball at the center line and turned upfield. Like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning Justify, the speedy winger left his competition behind in the fog. As Picault drove into the final third, a smart run from Sapong occupied the center backs. Epps then filled the empty space and, as Picault centered a pass, used the inside of his right foot to give Philadelphia the lead.

Three minutes later, Epps nearly had his second after finding space on the right flank, but his shot was deflected over the bar.

Real Salt Lake, though, couldn’t prevent the Union from doubling their lead in the 34th minute. A quick counter saw Philadelphia’s captain Alejandro Bedoya driving forward with Dockal to his left. Bedoya played a ball through that beat the defense and put Dockal alone with the keeper. As Rimando raced out, the Union’s No. 10 provided a chip of such quality that Jim Herr would have been proud.

The Union were unlucky not to have added a third during their best half of the season. Just before the halftime whistle, Sapong played a dynamic ball to Dockal that again put the Czech midfielder behind every Real Salt Lake defender. With time, Dockal picked out the late run of right back Keegan Rosenberry. His first touch was a blast, but one that caromed off the near post.

After play resumed, Dockal was again at the forefront of the match. One-on-one with Lennon, Picault displayed some fantastic, flashy footwork. The former Liverpool player recovered just in time to deflect the attempted cross. As the ball hung in the air, Dockal raced forward and struck a volley from eight yards out. With one of the best saves of the season, a reactionary strong right hand from Rimando kept the Union lead at two goals.

Worryingly for the home crowd, the Union’s lead was cut in half in the 65th minute. Winger Sebastián Saucedo, who entered the match at halftime, outworked and outmuscled Rosenberry on the touchline. He then played a central ball back in front of Blake. It looked intended for forward Corey Baird, but a deft dummy left the pass for midfielder Damir Kreilach. The Croatian opened the scoring for Real Salt Lake, beating Blake low and to his near post.

It appeared the Union were quick to regain their two-goal advantage. Just two minutes after Kreilach’s finish, Epps looked to have scored his brace. Unintentionally nutmegging a defender, the 23-year-old fired straight at Rimando. It stung his hands, but trickled over his shoulder and over the line. It was all for naught, however, as VAR determined that Epps came back from an offsides position. It was the correct call.

In reality, the Union had to wait until the 74th minute to find their third goal. Ilsinho, who had come on for Sapong, scored the 10th goal of his MLS career. He slammed home a Dockal cross from close range.

The party wasn’t over for the Union until the 81st minute. From 25 yards out, Rosenberry had another go, smashing an absolute rocket that didn’t hit the post as his first-half attempt did. Rimando had no chance at preventing the Union’s fourth and final goal of the night.

The win marked the first time the Union won back-to-back games in a season since June 24 and July 2 of last year. They will try to make it three in a row next Saturday on the road against New York Red Bulls. Kickoff from Harrison, N.J. is at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Three points
  • Teenage tandem: When a team scores four goals, the offense gets the glory. But the defensive work of center backs Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie was more than impressive. It’s tough to believe they are two nineteen-year-olds playing in their first MLS season.
  • The invisible Englishman: With Burke suspended and Sapong gimpy, it seemed like this might be Jay Simpson’s time to prove his worth. He didn’t even make the 18. That’s as clear indictment as any of where Simpson stands in Curtin’s eyes.
  • The next test: It’s safe to say the Union’s wins have come against teams in the lower half of the league. Next week’s game against the Red Bulls will be a good indication of if the Union’s current good form is for real.

Philadelphia Union

Andre Blake; Keegan Rosenberry, Mark McKenzie, Auston Trusty, Raymon Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin, Alejandro Bedoya; Fafa Picault, Borek Dockal (Anthony Fontana 86′), Marcus Epps (David Accam 79′); C.J. Sapong (Ilsinho 64′)
Unused Subs: John McCarthy, Warren Creavalle, Fabinho, Jack Elliott

Real Salt Lake

Nick Rimando; Adam Henley (Sebastián Saucedo HT’), Justen Glad, Marcelo Silva (Nick Besler 76′), Pablo Ruiz; Kyle Beckerman, Albert Rusnák, Damir Kreilach; Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Brooks Lennon
Unused Subs: Danilo Acosta, Aaron Herrera, Luis Silva, Sunny, Connor Sparrow

Scoring summary

PHI: Marcus Epps – 21′ (Fafa Picault)
PHI: Borek Dockal – 34′ (Alejandro Bedoya, Marcus Epps)
RSL: Damir Kreilach – 65′ (Sebastian Saucedo)
PHI: Ilsinho – 74′ (Borek Dockal, Marcus Epps)
PHI: Keegan Rosenberry – 81′ (Ilsinho, Borek Dockal)

Disciplinary summary

RSL: Pablo Ruiz – 87′ (unsporting behavior)

Philadelphia Union Real Salt Lake
 19 Shots 13
 10 Shots on Target 6
 6 Shots off Target 6
 3 Blocked Shots 1
 8 Corner Kicks 3
 19 Crosses 6
 2 Offsides 0
 12 Fouls 11
 0 Yellow Cards 1
 0 Red Cards 0
 471 Total Passes 424
 81% Passing Accuracy 79%
 53% Possession 47%
 50 Duels Won 41
 55% Duels Won %  45%
 8 Tackles Won 4
 5 Saves  6
 14 Clearances 19


  1. Andy Muenz says:

    Good all around effort and a fun night at the stadium. On the goal called back, lots of people were upset, but I was surprised when the flag hadn’t gone up since I had thought Epps was offsides as I saw the action unfold.
    Although I think he had a potentially costly mistake early, I was really impressed with the way McKenzie settled down and had a second outstanding effort in a row. There were multiple times when he was able to bail out teammates and turn the play around. Elliott may be looking at a sophomore season like Keegan’s last year.

    • About the goal that came back; I won’t be surprised if you see more side officiating in this vein. With VAR in play during every match, instruct the sideline flags to stay down unless it’s plain as day. The video judge can make the call after the goal is scored since play will stop anyway.
      Should make for higher scoring/more entertaining matches.

  2. OtherIanFleming says:

    Great game to be at. Not sure how it looked on TV but we seemed like a team. We could have lost 4-1 but it was, for the first time in some time, fun to watch

    • Nick Fishman says:

      To be fair, the Union looked more likely to win 8-1 than lose 4-1

      • Have to agree with Nick, Saw it in person as well. There was no way that game could be seen going RSL’s way. Could have very realistically been an 8-1 (maybe 8-3?) win. There was no “lose” in that team tonight.
        The Union looked very good against a slightly wounded team. As they should have. It was good to see.

      • OtherIanFleming says:

        I completely agree.

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    Union Boys came in Studs Up tonight.

    This little bit of footy idiom word play been sitting on the language shelf for a long time to commemorate a thoroughly dominant performance. Missed the first half but my buddy kept me abreast and well, the second half was a seasoned display of good footy.
    Congrats earned and therefore given when it is due.
    Well done, Jim. Well done, boys.

    • Joel Pterasaur says:

      Having been able to catch a few games in MLS this weekend, particularly ATLvNY. I am feeling better about the Union. Sure I still don’t think they are going to make the playoffs, but I think the our defense has been playing quite well, especially for how young they are. Atlanta in particular looked very shaky in defense, and not just after a bad turnovers. I think this team will live and die as Dockal and Medunjanin go. They were all over the field on Saturday; moving the ball, making runs, popping up to receive a pass. If they can perform like that on a regular basis, I think we’ll be alright. Just play well indeed.

  4. Entertaining Game Against a Favorable Match-Up

    – Docks and H-Med looked active, loved their first touches and really helped to carve up the RSL mid.
    – Picault was a monster on the left and Epps on the right.
    – McKenzie’s cleanup work and quick decisions–actually in general–the quick passing was miles better from everyone.
    – I think there could have been far more if it was Fabinho and not Gaddis (rocks for feet) and Sapong.
    – Really hoping Bedoya would have converted that chip.

    Good game plan; good execution; go Union.

  5. OtherIanFleming says:

    I know I already posted, I can’t help it. For the first time this season we felt like the philly team we were supposed to be. The flyers, eagles, 76ers. The union. We felt like what all these team really are: The Hellraisers. We don’t need to win. We want you to come here and try your best, and whatever the outcome, you go home and say, “well boys, they earned our paychecks tonight. We played against a team that wanted it.” We earned it tonight, and it was just plain ol’ fun to watch. It was, in all meaning, a team. A team. Finally.

    • See? Now I’ve got to go the other way on ya here 😉
      There is no “finally” with most Philly fans and we’re (thank God) playing a lot of kids. There will certainly be some more rough games this season, and when they lose their next one, no matter how they do it, we’ll be “shootin’ the rapids of Sh*t River Canyon” here once again. (Where every shout of hyperbolic anger echoes forever off the walls of hardened hearts, and every voice of reason is drowned out by the roaring pace of the extrement.)

  6. This was pretty much the breakout match I had been expecting for awhile. The team just felt like a bubble waiting to burst with so many missed chances over so many games. They played well, they deserve the accolades. More please.

    • Hopefully this is a start of them delivering goals at the rate predicted by xG. Still a long road to the playoffs.

      With Dockal being added so late in the preseason, it is almost like he was a summer transfer window add from the getting up to speed perspective.

      Glass half-full for another week. Probably last game I watch for a while, as heading to asia for two weeks for work and unsure if ESPN+/mls app will allow me to watch the games outside of the US.

  7. Agreed with others. My first game back since the snoozefest that was the Crew match. I hadn’t seen the team win in person in over a year (you can guess which home games I saw last season). I forgot what winning felt like.
    Def the better team. Minus the sag that lead to the goal against, they were a solid team. Hope they can thread together points because, boy, do we need them

  8. OneManWolfpack says:

    If this team plays this way more often than not, they will be make the playoffs. Period. RSL isn’t great, and they’re even worse on the road, but the Union kicked their ass tonight.
    I was impressed all around. Really not a bad thing to say. Keep it up boys.
    As The Elephant says: Just. Play. Well.

  9. Nicely done, gentlemen. Combinations, aggression from the start and creativity in all quadrants. Where was this all year? Thanks for showing us that you have it. That was fun, comfortable from the start and to top it off with the first win over RSL…just great.

    It seemed to me that the wings were higher this game, and gave more options than just Sapong carrying four defenders around. It led to more chances and more pressure on the RSL defenders and Rimando. That was impressive to see, and if that continues, maybe this formation is not a complete loss. I still think that it is not for this group of players, but w Dockage scoring and Medunjanin assisting, the wings had more with which to work. They were left unsupported too often, but there is time left.

  10. That was fantastic… but I’m STILL not getting my hopes up too high until I see some more performances like this on the road, and some against higher-echelon clubs.

    I mean, not like we expect you to win all these games… not like we expected you to play this well EVERY game… but if THIS is truly what you’re capable of, then show it to us, more often than not.

    P.S. If Picault and Epps play like this, what the hell are we gonna do with David Accam??

    P.P.S. I kind of object to Jack Elliott losing his job — I think he’s a very fine player — but damn Mark MacKenzie looked good out there. And Auston Trusty is just a beast.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      Accam can be the speedster off the bench when the other team is tired. Sort of like Antoine Hoppenot with talent. When the squad needs rotation, he can start and Fafa can come off the bench.
      Elliott can play next season (like Keegan last year vs. this year) when Trusty and McKenzie have their sophomore slumps.

  11. Pretty good play all around. I still hope Burke starts next match but kudos to CJ for gutting this out. Finally was a fun match to watch. Fafa has really improved leaps and bounds, exciting to watch him.

  12. This season has kind of reminded me of when Barnetta got here. He and the team didn’t look too great. Chances and passes were missed. Runs not made. Hands thrown up and pointing. Then things started to come together. There started to become an understanding. I believe this is what’s been happening. I think this might be the start of something good. Dare I say it. I’m almost flinching writing this. How sad. Wouldn’t it be nice to just enjoy a good thing. Please let this be a good thing soccer gods. We could use it.

  13. Well done, ‘ALL AROUND’… especially the coaches decision to keep the same starting eleven, less the Burke red card. keep the momentum going next week, 3 in a row!!!

  14. Sorry to bust everyone’s bubble but, RSL was soo bad. They pressed in the beginning of the first half and really tested Blake. Then later on their offense just fell apart along with their defense. The union pressed high as usual and against a really weak RSL defense it worked out for us. They gave the Union so much Space to run at the defense and to create opportunities to shoot on goal. Medunjanin and the rest of the central midfield were never pressured in the central midfield. They were allowed to have a field day through the middle of the pitch. Other teams will figure out how to defend Fafa and definetly Epps. It has been done before. It’s only a matter of time. Do I give the Union credit? Yes absolutely. Do i give Epps credit ? Yes. What I liked from him is that he was initiating movement throughout the game. Well done. Is he the answer to getting this team on the right track ? I don’t think so. You put that line up against the teams who have a strong offense and overall team who can keep the ball and defend well ( Atlanta, Toronto, LAFC ), and I think it would be a different story. It will be. Against a weak RSL team like that, they should have won. #Dropthecurtin

  15. I give the guys credit(not the coaching). They stomped on 2 teams in a row and didn’t find ways to lose when they should win. They didn’t live down the their reputation.

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      This ^^^
      They often lose games against teams like this… and last week against Montreal. Nice to see them get 3 points from both games.

      • They did get the points they deserved out of this match. I don’t care if RSL put a weak side out there. The boys in blue made the most of that chance to get points. These two teams are close in the standings so the points are very good! And wins help build confidence. So good on em!

    • So coaching gets no credit during wins but lots of blame during losses?

  16. “the Union’s No. 10 provided a chip of such quality that Jim Herr would have been proud” writing that sizzles like chipsteak on the grill.

  17. We Are Steel 2K18 says:

    The Union are improving as more of the Steel guys play. Coincidence? I think not. Maybe I’m bias :]

    The Union’s 4-2-3-1 is looking more like the Steel’s 4-2-3-1 lately. Getting a lot more out of it. More pressure. Getting good looks on goal.

    This team has talent and potential. It’s just a question of putting everything together.

    Go Steel. Go Union.

  18. Some really lovely goals. Epps, Dockal and Rosenberry in particular. Good attacking play all the way around. Nice win. Lets see if they can retain this composure at RedBull on Saturday.

  19. That was fun live! Not just because we won…but we were able to play well. And both keepers put on a shot stopping display that was just fun to watch. The boys in blue made lots of nice triangle passes and created some nice chances and nice goals too.
    We were also treated to some great cheering from a girls youth team! The Sons of Ben in the River end and the Daughters of Ben in 114! Pretty cool night!

  20. The Truth says:

    Good showing against a poor side.

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