The Philadelphia Union face their toughest test this Saturday when last year's MLS Cup Runners Up Real Salt Lake come to PPL Park. Make no mistake, this will be one of the toughest matches the Union will play all year.
What To Expect From Philadelphia:
The Union come in to this match at 1-1-3 and in the fifth place in the East. The club had a disappointing yet relieving result last week when they tied the Chicago Fire 2-2. The Union were up 2-1 before Juan Luis Anangonó knotted the match in the 86th minute, and the Fire could have won it in stoppage if Mike Magee's penalty shot hadn't been saved by Zac MacMath.
The Union have faltered a bit defensively over the past couple of weeks, and it's not all forward-turned-defender Aaron Wheeler's fault. Wheeler has been serviceable, even showing flashes of brilliance, but the combined inexperience of Wheeler and Amobi Okugo (who does not have a Carlos Valdes or Jeff Parke to rely on this season) has gotten the Union into trouble over the first five matches. Look for Austin Berry - the only natural center back to get any minutes thus far this year - to possibly get the nod over Wheeler, whose terrible penalty almost spelled disaster for the Union in Bridgeview, Illinois.
The midfield has been much improved over last season, and seems to be gelling and getting better every week even as the first controversy seems to be brewing. Leo Fernandes - the second year player who was drafted in the last round of the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft - started against Chicago over Cristian Maidana - the Argentine Designated Player brought in by the club over the offseason. Whether it was due to a calf injury or his infamous NSFW Instagram photo, Chaco sat and Leo shined, scoring off of a free kick to put the Union up just before the half. Who will get the nod against RSL?
Also in a less interesting game of "Who starts?", newly acquired Andrew Wenger will be eligible to play for the Union against Real Salt Lake, having served his mandatory suspension for acquiring a red card for a hard tackle against Union midfielder Vincent Noguiera before being traded by the Montreal Impact for Jack McInerney. Will Wenger start over Conor Casey, who played 87 minutes against the Fire? Not likely. Look for Wenger to be a bench option, possibly getting minutes only if Casey's calf injury starts to nag him.
What To Expect From Real Salt Lake
Let's be honest here, RSL is one of the league's best - and best run - clubs and any match against them is going to be difficult. They've never lost to the Union, going 1-0-4 all time against Philadelphia, and more importantly are 2-0-4 this season. They have three players in Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, and Tony Beltran who are on USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann's radar to feature in Brasil (although it seems like only Beckerman has an inside track to a spot). The team is stacked top to bottom, but look for Costa Rican international (and Designated Player) Alvaro Saborio to be the focal point of RSL's attack. Saborio has 3 goals in 5 matches, however has scored only once against the Union - back in May of 2010.
Look for Real Salt Lake's back four along with central defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman to really limit the space that the Union attack will have. The Union will have to be patient and wait for RSL to make a mistake - and capitalize on it. Conor Casey's size will be neutralized by the center back pairing of Nat Borchers (6'2", 175) and Chris Schuler (6'4', 185). Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who averages one goal against per game this season, missed last week's match against Sporting Kansas City. Ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies player Jeff Attinella stepped in and didn't miss a beat, keeping all nine SKC shots out of the net.
Against a team as deep as Real Salt Lake, anyone team would have problems, let alone a team that is still trying to gel. I think the Union will play well, but ultimately RSL will prevail 3-2.