In anticipation of tonight's match with defending MLS Cup-champion Real Salt Lake (7:30 PM Eastern/Live Well HD Network), denz from the excellent RSL Soapbox and I exchanged questions about each other's team. Below are the questions I asked about the group from Utah:
1. When these teams last met, Real Salt Lake was 2-3-2, having just broken a five match winless streak against Toronto. What's changed since then? Is it confidence, or something more tangible, like five of those seven games coming on the road?
Starting with a road heavy schedule it really tough, as the Union well know. A tough set of calls in Houston, a couple bad calls in Columbus and the record could have been very different, but I am most impressed that the team has regrouped and shown their real form. I think also the pressure of despite winning MLS Cup being considered a fluke by many of the soccer critics in the US, and trying to deal with finding a way to integrate Saborio into the lineup, both of these forced them to again regroup under the concept of "the team is the star" and that has helped them to play as they are capable of doing. It is confidence and then that never say die attitude which shows up in 16 goals scored in the final 15 minutes of halves.
2. If RSL is without both Robbie Findley and Alvaro Saborio due to international service, is there confidence in the remainder of the team's scoring depth? Might we see Kreiss start Fabian Espindola up top alone, with Findley coming on later in the game should he be available?
I don't think so, I think you will see Espindola and Campos up top. Jason like the combination of a speed forward with a target forward and last year when called on Pablo Campos came up big with 2 game winning goals and 3 assists in just 400 minutes of playing time. I think you will see them start up top and if needed I would look for Robbie Findley to enter the match in the 65-75th minute, and given that Philly have given up a lot of late goals, that could be very dangerous as half of Findley's goals in 2009 came off the bench.
3. One of the more interesting stats about RSL is they are 9-0-0 when leading at the 75th minute -- in my opinion, a true hallmark of a championship team. Perhaps that's not an all-too-special statistic, but coming from someone who's watched the Union, I'd love to be able to feel that secure about those last fifteen minutes. Do RSL play it safe and pack it in for those minutes, or do they feel strong enough defensively that the players and coaching staff feel no need to change the style of play that much?
RSL don't really bunker at the end of matches, they have 8 goals in the final 15. They do know how to defend well and as a team, which has resulted in 8 clean sheets and often when teams are behind they have to take more risks and the RSL defense with Olave and Borchers in the middle is just very tough to beat on a regular basis. Then you have Nick Rimando, who can make some of the most spectacular saves you will see in MLS, he has the ability to read the match very well. Perhaps the key to those final 15 minutes for RSL is their ability to keep possession and control the pace of the match, this is even more evident at home but often on the road them have themselves in a position late in matches that they don't have to chase results.
Denz would continue on to point out that my question was slightly flawed, because the Union have gained more decisions in the final fifteen minutes than they have lost. The point I think I was trying to make, though, is that -- and if I'm wrong about this, please say something in the comments -- outside of parts of the home openers against DC United and the Sounders, I can't really think of a time where I've felt comfortable with the Union tied or up by one mid-game. Such is the life of an expansion team follower, I guess.
After the jump are the questions asked about the Union, and my responses.
Like Real Salt Lake and some other teams in MLS, the Union didn't make any DP signings in the transfer window but you did add Eduadro Coudet, Justin Mapp and Juan Diego Gonzalez to your roster. How do you see these players making an impact for the rest of the season?
Coudet and Mapp seem to fit in well with Peter Nowak's aggressive style. Both like to push forward and Coudet can be responsible off the ball as well. Unfortunately, the team's biggest problem up front is finishing, and I don't think either will help a good deal there. As for Gonzalez, well, after Nowak spent all his energy in acquiring midfield depth, he (like the rest of us) realized that the team only had four or five real defenders. With Cristian Arrieta a yellow card away from receiving a suspension, and Jordan Harvey straining his left groin, the trigger was pulled on acquiring Gonzalez. He got the start against Dallas on Sunday and filled in well, considering it was his first taste of MLS action. It seemed at first he was a bit hesitant -- still trying to get his bearings, I guess, but he pulled things together by the second half. Like Coudet and Mapp, his acquisition can't hurt, but the Union aren't suddenly going to be vaulted into playoff contention because of it.
Sebastien Le Toux has put up some of the best numbers in MLS with his 9 goals and 7 assists and he is clearly the stat leader for the team, but who is the on field leader of the team?
For better or for worse, Danny Califf. He's the captain, and has made some god awful mistakes, but has generally been a reliable presence in the back. The best part about him from my perspective, though, is that he takes responsibility for his mistakes (see: game vs. Columbus last week) and wants to make sure that the locker room doesn't fall onto the slippery slope that is the expansion team excuse for poor performance. Oh, and he had a mohawk at the beginning of the season. He's awesome like that.
No team has allowed more goals in MLS than the 32 goals allowed by the Union, former RSL keeper Chris Seitz has been left out to dry a number of times by defensive mistakes, and the team has had to play a man down 5 times already this year, what needs to happen in order for the Union to stop leaking goals?