Riding a team high 4 game winning streak, unbeaten in the last six, the Philadelphia Union (4-4-4,16 Pts, 7th Place Eastern Conference) travel to Sandy, UT to face Real Salt Lake (3-8-2, 11 Pts, 10th Place Western Conference). The U are coming off their third win in a week’s time, 2-1 over the Colorado Rapids. RSL ended their own three games in a week stretch with a 1-0 road loss to Seattle Sounders FC.
The Union have never beaten Real, losing three, and tying six times. The last time they met was a 2-1 loss at home back on July 31st last season. The last two matches in Utah were draws.
Projected Union Starting XI: 4-2-3-1
GK Andre Blake D’s Raymon Gaddis, Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, Fabinho MF’s Alejandro Bedoya, Haris Medunjanin, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho, Fafa Picault, F CJ Sapong
Man to watch for Real Salt Lake:
While their leading scorer is F Yura Movsisyan, four Goals, one on a PK, the real threat is MF Albert Rusnak, fourAssists, one a game winner, and three Goals. He also leads the team with 23 shots, nine on goal. Rusnak has started 11 of 13 games, racking up a team high in minutes played. He will need to be well marked, but the U have done a good job with other team’s best players during the lossless streak. Another stalwart for Real Salt Lake is veteran GK Nick Rimando, MLS all-time leader in GP, GS, mnutes played, saves, and Clean Sheets.
Hot For The Union:
MF Chris Pontius is second in MLS with a team high six assists, matching his career high from last season. GK Andre Blake had his fifth clean sheet last Wednesday, seond in MLS. His career high is six. The hottest player though is still F CJ Sapong, whe despite being one of he most fouled players in the league, scored his eigth goal last Saturday, 3rd in MLS. That is one short of his career high he reached back in 2012 in his sophomore year for Sporting Kansas City.
Signs Point to the Union:
The come-back win last Saturday should really help keep the confidence level high for the Union. As Head Coach Jim Curtin noted “Confidence is a heck of a thing. If you could bottle it up and sell it, you could make a heck of a lot of money. You see a group now that previously when we gave up a goal, we might lay down. We might panic. I don’t think we handled it perfectly, but we did push the game in the second half.” Curtin has his own win streak of sorts, his team not having lost a game in May since 2015.
The U have been very stingy allowing 15 goals, third least in the East. Real Salt Lake will have trouble scoring as they are dealing with injuries and it was just announced on Friday that MLS has suspended MF Kyle Beckerman for one game for violent conduct in the 16th minute of their match against Seattle Sounders FC on May 20. While not a scorer, he has been a steady veteran presence starting 9 games and logging almost 800 minutes.
Real has only won two out of their last 10 home Matches – four L’s and four D’s.
For all of the above reasons, even though this feels like a trap game with a game against New York City FC (6-4-2, 20 Pts, Third Place East) on the horizon, I see this team finally coming together as a unit, and that will be the difference in this 3-1 Union win.