Game: Philadelphia Union vs. Real Salt Lake
Date: Sunday, July 31st
Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: Talen Energy Stadium
Referees: REF: JUAN GUZMAN AR1: Peter Manikowski AR2: CJ Morgante 4TH: Mark Geiger
Television: The Comcast Network, KMYU
Streaming: MLS LIVE
What the Union will look like:
Man, last week was tough. The Montreal Impact are a very good team, especially at home. The Union have been less than stellar on the road this season. Knowing all that I don't think anyone went into the Montreal game hoping for much more than a draw. Maybe stealing three points on the road after a late goal, but no one thought the Union would handily beat Montreal in Stade Saputo. What we definitely didn't expect was to see the team let Didier Drogba score a hat trick, give up two more goals for good measure, and just all around get their butts handed to them. It was a poor loss. Even more so after a tough loss in PK's against The Revolution mid-week. The Union have only won two games since the departure of Vincent Nogueira. They desperately need to find a way to start stringing some wins together, particularly on the road, or they will continue to see themselves fall in the standings.
Lots of people, myself included, are starting to feel that sense of dread set in. You know the one. It's the one you always feel when a Philadelphia sports team that has been performing well, suddenly seems to be letting it all slip away. I feel a bit like a wizened old farmer predicting rain because his old knee injury is bothering him. I can just feel it in my bones.
But this is not the Philadelphia Union of old, and it's not fair for us to assume that they will crumble. This is a team that is now more likely to score the late goal to steal points than to concede it. This is a team with a determined, young defense, and a core of veteran offensive players that know how to get the job done. We should remain hopeful. And let's not forget that this is a team that has performed very, very well at home.
The Union will be missing Tranquillo Barnetta on yellow card accumulation on Sunday. Expect Warren Creavalle to step in for Barnetta at the #8 spot. I know everyone is excited about Derrick Jones, but I doubt very highly he jumps right into starting for the first team. With Fabinho getting rest on Saturday, he should return to the starting line up at left back. I'd also expect to see Ilsinho return to the starting line up, now that he has served his suspension for the red card against The New York Red Bulls. With Barnetta off the pitch, The Union will have to find a way to move the ball through the midfield. The double pivot with Brian Carroll and Creavalle is typically a very good defensive choice, but it also tends to leave a gap between the offense and the defense. Without Vincent Nogueira's quick passing and constant switching of the field, this is an area in which The Union have struggled mightily. Barnetta has done a good enough job filling in, but it's becoming clear that the position is not his natural one, and it is wearing on him. With Creavalle at the #8, the team doesn't get forward fast enough, with Barnetta they get forward perhaps too fast. The team needs to find an answer to this problem, and quickly. Logic seems to suggest that Edu can step into the #8 role, if and when he gets healthy in order to free up Barnetta to return to the #10 spot. If Edu is not coming back soon enough, hopefully the Union can add a solid piece to the midfield before the transfer window closes.
This is a big game for Roland Alberg. Alberg struggled in the opening months of the season, which is pretty normal for a player new to the league, but had an explosion of goals when he broke through. Since then, though, he has seemed very absent. His finishing has been off, and he has seemed unable to provide the kind of creative spark you need from your #10 in recent games. Without Barnetta to help him out offensively, Alberg will need to take a little more of that role on his shoulders. Hopefully he will drop deep enough to collect balls from Carroll and Creavalle and find some quality passes to feed Ilsinho, Pontius and CJ Sapong.
What Real Salt Lake will look like:
Real Salt Lake has had a somewhat rough stretch recently, or at least it looks that way from an outsider's perspective. They're winless in 6 games, registering 4 draws and 2 losses. But even with all of that, RSL still sits one spot ahead of the Union in the Supporters Shield standings, inching in front by one point. Salt Lake may be having a somewhat inconsistent season, but they are a very dangerous team with very skilled players. It would be very careless of The Union to take this team lightly. Western Conference opponents are always a tough test, and RSL is no different.
In terms of line-ups, Salt Lake may be missing their leading goal scorer and star center forward, Yura Movsisyan, who had to leave last week's game towards the end of the first half with a hip flexor strain. If Movsisyan can't go, RSL will have to turn to 23 year old Olmes Garcia, who hasn't managed to find the back of the net in over a year.
But even without Yura, Salt Lake is still dangerous. Burrito Martinez and Joao Plata have 11 goals between them and will most certainly be testing the Union's young defense all game. Martinez, in particular, has been a highlight machine with his incredible skill on the ball all season, and any fan of MLS will tell you how dangerous Joao Plata can be.
I'd like to be more hopeful about this game, but I just can't bring myself to be optimistic. The Union have drawn RSL the last four times the two teams have played. With RSL possibly missing their star striker, and the Union missing a lot of offensive punch without Barnetta and Ilsinho, I just don't know where the offense is going to come from for either team. I'm expecting a hard fought draw, with both teams struggling to find the final pass.