Match previews / Union

Match preview: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake

Photo by Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (1st place, 36 points, 10-6-5) vs. Real Salt Lake (8th place, 21 points, 8-2-9)
What: 2019 regular season game
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
When: Saturday, July 13, 10:00 p.m.
Watch: ESPN+
Whistle: Referee: Silviu Petrescu, Assistant Referees: Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho, Claudiu Badea, 4th Official: Michael Radchuk, VAR: Allen Chapman

Philadelphia Union picked up a pair of results against Orlando City last week, if not in an unlikely order. First it was a decisive win on the road against a full-strength squad that suffered from two red cards. Then, on the return leg to Talen Energy Stadium that was pushed back to to Sunday because of weather, Orlando’s weakened lineup had the hosts on ropes until a late Kacper Przybylko equalizer earned a 2-2 draw.

The Union, with a five-point cushion on top of the Eastern Conference, are now off to Utah tomorrow evening to take on a Real Salt Lake squad that defends Rio Tinto Stadium well. Jim Curtin is the guy and every point counts as he strives for his first-ever playoff match in Philly.

Scouting report: Real Salt Lake 

Real Salt Lake is the definition of a hot-and-cold side. Two results to start the campaign, then four straight losses. Two wins after that, then two more losses. Three wins, three losses. The formula makes for a purely average Major League Soccer team that is currently on the outside looking in out west. Before RSL’s most recent loss to San Jose, it had fired off three straight results and only conceded one goal in those matches. If you believe in trends, the Union will be banking on the start of another losing streak.

For the casual MLS fan, naming more than a few guys on RSL’s roster might be tricky. Their two most prominent players are still probably former U.S. National teamers Nick Rimando (40) and Kyle Beckerman (37). They’re still going strong and starting regularly. The third biggest name might be former New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke, who is very familiar with the Union.

The lack of star power might have something to do with the side’s mediocre 8th place positioning and -4 goal differential, but RSL still has some weapons worth noting. Sam Johnson, a designated player from Liberia in his first ever MLS season, has netted eight goals in just 10 starts. He averages a goal every 115 minutes, which is the best rare for an RSL player in over ten years. Albert Rusnák, starting mid, has six goals and three assists in over 1,400 minutes played in 2019, Petke likes to set up in the 4-2-3-1 with Beckerman and a partner protecting the back line and Johnson alone up top.

It’s one of those matches that looks ripe for the picking for Jim Curtin and company, but they’ll need to take it seriously. Before last season’s 4-1 win in May, the Union had failed to win in 11 straight meetings with Salt Lake (4L -6D). Petke’s squad has also won four straight home matches and conceded just twice in the past four matches overall.

Injury report:

OUT: Jordan Allen (M)

DOUBTFUL: Tony Beltran (D)

QUESTIONABLE: Nedum Onuoha (D), Sam Johnson (F)

Suspension report: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Marco Fabian finally scored in the run of play this past weekend, and with Jamiro Monteiro out with a left ankle sprain, it should mean another start tomorrow night — especially on full rest. Curtin has no problem playing Brenden Aaronson in the central midfield, or he can revert back to the staple of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. Aurelien Collin gave Auston Trusty a well-earned rest in the second Orlando match, but expect the young American to be back in the lineup with Jack Elliott in Utah. Andre Blake is back, Kai Wagner has become a regular and in a match like this with six days rest and no cup matches to work around, Curtin’s lineup will be much easier to predict.

Przybylko is the hot hand up top and has worked his way up to 6th in goals in all of MLS. He almost has to be started at this point, with Fafa Picault leading the battle for the second striker spot. Curtin did confirm, however, that new signing Andrew Wooten will be fit and in the 18 tomorrow night. While unproven here, he certainly scored plenty of goals in Germany. Last season was the best of his career as he logged 17 goals and saved SV Sandhausen from relegation.

The Union have logged a few nice road wins this season (Toronto, Minnesota, Orlando) and should be licking their chops ahead of this one. With 15 points on the road already, last season’s 21-point club record is poised to be broken. We’re starting to get an idea of who Philly is. We know the squad is strong and we know it’s dangerous.

It may simply be a matter of showing up to play and going about business.

Injury report

OUT: Warren Creavalle (M), Olivier Mbaizo (D), Jamiro Monteiro (M)

QUESTIONABLE: Ilsinho (M), Michee Ngalina (F), Carlos Miguel Coronel (GK)

Suspension report: None
Key matchup: Johnson vs. the Union defense

Real Salt Lake is far from a potent offense. They can score, but they don’t have a bundle of threats to throw at you. Johnson has scored almost a third of the squad’s goals this season. Shut him down and you have a very good chance at a result.

Player to watch: Andrew Wooten

Wooten won’t start tonight and he may not even play, but you can foresee a couple different scenarios in which Union fans might get a first look at him: Down a goal late, fresh legs up top. Winning by a couple, break him into the squad without much risk. Curtin said himself that he doesn’t want to rush Wooten into anything, but Ernst Tanner is high on him and eventually he will play. Eventually, he has to play.

Przybylko is in good form and Picault is a steady, dangerous option, but you need more than two guys. Sergio Santos has been fairly disappointing and, at least right now, doesn’t appear to be a full-time starter. If Wooten can turn out to be that guy, it will go a long way for Philly.

We’ll see him soon.

Prediction: Philadelphia 2-1 Salt Lake City

Simply put, this is the type of match that top squads win. Yes, Salt Lake is strong at home, but this is supposed to be a new Philadelphia Union. One with depth and goal-scoring prowess. One that plays well on the road. The poor record against RSL in the past shouldn’t matter anymore. Philly’s last scoreless match was almost two months ago. They generate far more chances than RSL and have way more weapons.

They’ll find a way to bag a couple and build the Eastern Conference lead.


  1. I agree that they will prevail. They always seem to play with intensity after a poor showing, and last Sunday was a poor showing even though they pulled even at the end. Hope they get Monteiro back soon though. He has made himself irreplaceable.

  2. John Ling says:

    Are we sure ESPN+ is the only way to view this game? I think Tannewald over at philly dot com mentioned it was a free stream on the U’s website…

  3. el Pachyderm says:

    any points are good points in this match.

  4. Anyone other Union fans going to be at the RioT?

  5. We will be lucky to get a draw from this match, and I am not being a Negadelphian.

    Yes, I do believe in the squad, and they’ve been a much better club than RSL this season. But flying out west is always very hard in this league, and to add to that, the high altitude in Salt Lake City really takes it out of a visiting team. It is not a coincidence that we have 1 win against this team in 11 previous matches.

    I have an ugly feeling that this is the match where Jim’s disbelief in squad rotation — and in particular his insistence on playing Ale Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin for 95 minutes every single match — may finally bite us in the butt. I think we could get a draw, and I’ll be quite content with the point. 3 points would be huge (and I won’t be upset when it doesn’t happen).

  6. Andy Muenz says:

    Just checked an LiveWell is now showing that the game will be on tonight (at least on Comcast in Delaware county).

  7. Very happy with the season so far, but I have a very small point with which to knit-pick.

    I don’t think the Union’s 5-point lead can really be considered a “cushion”. NYFC has 4 games in hand, for a possible jump of 12 points. Atlanta has two games in hand, so they are essentially tied with the Union if they win both of them.

    I’m really not sure why soccer is the only professional sport where no one ever seems to mention “games in hand.” Until proven otherwise, I think we trail NYFC by 5 points, and are tied with Atlanta, with a good chance of better results forthcoming.

  8. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Under Philadelphia Union on the Roster dropdown at the MLS website, Ngalina is listed as “on loan” and unavailable. He is an international and is presumably on recallable loan to Bethlehem.
    Coronel is reported to be physically present in Red Bulls Salzburg’s preseason camp, in conjunction with the story that the Union are trying to return him early.

  9. Thanks for the tip Andy. It’s now showing on LiveWell for Verizon too.

  10. Its the end of the first half and Marco looks pathetic. He Cant move anything forward. Aaronson is getting beat all over the place. Double sub Ilsinio and Fontana for Aaronson and Fabian. Get Fhabino out of there also Real is sitting on the bench. The first half midfield lineup is pathetic. Cant evaluate the forwards when there is noservice from midfield. Bad lineup Jim. Bedoya must be going nuts

  11. Fabinho overcommits and makes dumb passes. He is dumb.

    Haris, Marco, Aaronson and Ale could not hang with the physicality of the midfielders. Ran off the field.

    Elliot was ok. Blake v Rimando distribution… he probably should have saved the second goal.

    Fab cannot play defense either. Worst game of the year perhaps

  12. Fabinho overcommits and makes dumb passes. He is dumb.

    Haris, Marco, Aaronson and Ale could not hang with the physicality of the midfielders. Ran off the field.

    Elliot was ok. Blake v Rimando distribution… he probably should have saved the second goal.

    Fab cannot play defense either. Worst game of the year perhaps

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