Match #25 Preview: Philadelphia Union At Real Salt Lake

CHESTER, PA - JUNE 11: Forward Danny Mwanga #10 of the Philadelphia Union heads the ball as defender Jamison Olave #4 of Real Salt Lake defends during a game at PPL Park on June 11, 2011 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The game ended 1-1. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Setting: Saturday, September 3 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah; kickoff scheduled for 9:06:30 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (JP Dellacamera, Taylor Twellman) with coverage beginning at 8:30 PM Eastern with Union Pre-Game Live / ESPN 700 KALL-AM (Bill Riley, Brian Kamler) and Juan 106.1 KBMG-FM/ESPN Deportes 1600 KEPN-AM (Nelson Moran, Fernando Hortal) with no local television in Salt Lake City / MLS Direct Kick, MatchDay Live (The Comcast Network feed)

RSL's Record: 11-7-6, fifth in West

RSL's Last Match: W, 2-1 at Chivas USA

Philadelphia vs. RSL This Season: 0-0-1 (RSL 1 @ Philadelphia 1 on June 11)

For the RSL Perspective, Visit RSL Soapbox

The Philadelphia Union got an unexpected week off thanks to Hurricane Irene, and, fortunately, they did not lose any more ground in the standings despite the three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference being in action. They now have played fewer matches than anyone else in the league except for Real Salt Lake, who happens to be their opponent this week. Remember that this match was originally scheduled for April 23rd, but the Union agreed to move the match to this Saturday so Real Salt Lake could have additional time to prepare and rest for the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Finals series against Monterrey (the first leg took place on April 20th, and the second was scheduled for April 27th, so it certainly would have been a major disruption to have a league match in between). This particular week was picked because, well, it was the only convenient week to pick in which both teams were free, thanks to its designation by FIFA as an international match week. No teams in MLS were originally scheduled to be in league action from September 2nd through the 6th in anticipation of various national team call ups.

This means that this rescheduled match is the only one on the MLS docket for the week, and both Philadelphia and RSL will be making up one of their crucial matches in hand as the two teams attempt to jump back up in the standings after some tough runs of play. Due to the aforementioned national team call ups, RSL is missing a number of their key players: Will Johnson, Arturo Alvarez, Alvaro Saborio and Jean Alexander are all away with their national teams, while Philadelphia is missing Trinidad and Tobago national Keon Daniel. In addition, RSL's Nat Borchers and Philadelphia's Carlos Valdes will both be unavailable due to one match suspensions. Borchers saw red last week at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA, while Valdes was finally bitten for yellow card accumulation. All of these missing players add up to two teams that are playing rather shorthanded, but despite the massive importance of Valdes to Philadelphia's stringent defense, the Union have been hit much less, and must take advantage of Real Salt Lake's missing pieces.

Real Salt Lake still have Fabian Espindola, though, and the Union must be wary of him, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil and Paulo Jr., all of whom are expected to start tomorrow. After another sluggish performance in Columbus, Piotr Nowak can only hope that his side has taken the unexpected break to rest up and continue to work on integrating Freddy Adu into the roster, as tomorrow's match begins yet another stretch of three matches in eight nights, and Philadelphia's slip over the past month has made points that much more important as the team attempts to make the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in their history. If the season ended right now, both Real Salt Lake and the Union would find themselves in wild card spots and, as a matter of fact, would be facing each other at Rio Tinto Stadium in a postseason play-in match. Both Nowak and Jason Kreis want to see their teams well clear of the wild card slots in the standings, so don't expect either side to come out of the locker rooms tomorrow looking to play to a draw; these are two teams that need three points, not just one.

Projected starters, up-to-date injury reports and assorted notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: Mondragon (C); G. Farfan, Miglioranzi, Califf, Williams; Okugo; Paunovic, Adu, Mapp; Mwanga, Le Toux

Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Beltran, Olave, Schuler, Russell; Williams, Beckerman, Gil, Warner; Paulo Jr., Espindola

Injury updates:

For the Union, Levi Houapeu remains unavailable as he rehabs his left ankle, while Brian Carroll is considered "doubtful" thanks to that right leg contusion that forced him to miss the team's match in Columbus. As mentioned before, Carlos Valdes is unavailable due to receiving a one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation, while Keon Daniel is away with the Trinidad and Tobago national team.

For Real Salt Lake, Chris Agorsor (formerly of the Union), Nelson González, Javier Morales and Chris Wingert are all unavailable due to a right hand fracture, a right foot fracture, a left ankle fracture and a left wrist fracture, respectively. Backup goalkeeper Kyle Reynish is listed as "doubtful" due to a right ankle sprain, while Ned Grabavoy is considered "questionable" thanks to a left adductor strain. Kyle Beckerman, Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave, Nick Rimando and Robbie Russell are all listed as "probable" despite a head laceration, a left knee contusion, a left MCL strain, a back contusion and left back spasms, respectively. As mentioned before, Nat Borchers is unavailable due to a red card suspension, while Will Johnson, Arturo Alvarez, Alvaro Saborio and Jean Alexander are all away on national team duties.

Of note:

  • Hilario Grajeda is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In 51 career MLS matches, Grajeda has called for an average of just under 25 fouls per match, handed out an average of between three and four yellow cards per match, given a total of 11 red cards and has awarded a total of eight penalty kicks.
  • For those of you who care about this stuff, JP Dellacamera and Taylor Twellman will be on-site at Rio Tinto Stadium tomorrow. It will be their first non-studio away match since the Union's 2-0 loss on May 14 to FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.
  • The Union haven't taken three points in a league match since their 3-0 win at New England on July 17, which was also their most recent shutout.
  • Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy have the stingiest defenses in the league, having both conceded a mere 20 goals (though the Galaxy have played two more than RSL). Having said that, RSL have conceded seven of those 20 in the final fifteen minutes of matches.
  • Both of these teams have scored nine of their goals in the final fifteen minutes of matches. If these past two statistics tell you anything, it's that you shouldn't turn off your TV at any point during the second half, thinking the match is all but over.
  • You may recall that following the 1-1 draw at PPL Park between these two teams on June 11, there was a slight bit of controversy after Union manager Piotr Nowak refused to shake hands with RSL manager Jason Kreis. Just a little subplot to keep in mind.
  • Philadelphia has not yet won a match against Real Salt Lake in their history. No time like the present for #1, though, right?
  • With a win tomorrow, the Union would catapult up to #2 in the East, while a tie would see them move up a spot to #3 in the East. Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, would move up to the #4 spot in the West with a victory and stay put in the #5 slot with a tie.
The Union will try to get back on track and take three points on the road as they make up a crucial game in hand against the rest of the Eastern Conference, while Real Salt Lake also looks to take full advantage of one of their matches in hand against the rest of the Western Conference. It's the only MLS match taking place this week, and it might have major implications for the playoff picture in both conferences. Hope you can join us for a gamethread tomorrow night!
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