1.) Barnetta barred - Tranquillo Barnetta was suspended on Sunday due to yellow card accumulation, though the timing could hardly have been better. In addition to drawing that fifth yellow card against Montreal a week and a half ago, Barnetta suffered a lower abdominal strain that rendered him useless in the second half. While injuries and suspensions are never desired, it is helpful when they coincide.
Warren Creavalle filled in for Barnetta, taking his spot in the central midfield alongside Brian Carroll. Just seconds after the game kicked off, Creavalle was caught too high up the field, opening up space for a Salt Lake attack. That opening sequence bluntly reminded us of the Union's paucity of adequate central midfielders. Since Vincent Nogueira and the club parted ways in mid-June, Barnetta, Creavalle, and Carroll have manned the midfield with Maurice Edu still working his way back from injury. While those three have composed the spine of a team that's leaked 19 goals since June 18th, they shouldn't bear the brunt of the blame considering that they're being asked to do far too much. Barnetta is a natural attacking midfielder with bad knees, so it shouldn't come as a surprise when he fails to properly defend. Creavalle's propensity to run is both a strength and a weakness, and his ability on the ball leaves much to be desired. Carroll puts forth admirable effort, but at 35, he's too old for this shit.
The Union midfield got carved up a few more times on Sunday night, and unless rumored signing Alejandro Bedoya can immediately plug a hole in central midfield, the bleeding might not stop until Edu returns, whenever that is.
2.) Sapong's physicality pays off - CJ Sapong can almost always be seen posting up on an opposing defender, to the point where he can take himself out of the game at times. While Aaron Maund and Jamison Olave did a good job of neutralizing Sapong on Sunday, the former foolishly ripped him down in the box in the 42nd minute. Roland Alberg smashed home the ensuing penalty, but fortunately for Maund, his attack covered for him.
3.) Plata's delight - Joao Plata hit one of the most beautiful goals we've seen at Talen Energy Stadium. It's almost a carbon copy of one Sebastien Le Toux scored against the New England Revolution back in 2010.
The movement that leads to the goal begins with a failed clearance from Keegan Rosenberry. Rosenberry, Ken Tribbett, and Fabinho all had a few weak clearances on the night, but only Rosenberry, who played 45 minutes in the All-Star game mid-week, was punished for his transgression. Instead of decisively nodding the ball out of play, Rosenberry tries to clear it even though he's backpedaling. The result: a header that pops up and lands on the knee of Joao Plata. From there, Real Salt Lake combine a bit outside the Union's box before Plata scores his goal-of-the-week candidate. While the goal itself was absolutely unstoppable, the Union's defensive work on the build-up was not their finest moment.
4.) Oh come on - Not even ten minutes after Joao Plata flung one into the far corner, Javier Morales stepped up and chipped a shot over a fully extended Andre Blake.
To score a chip from that range, it has to be perfect, and for it to beat Andre Blake, it has to be absolutely divine. And it was. Even though Javier Morales is getting up there in age, he'll continue to torment teams with magic like this until he's dead and buried.
The goal, again, was absolutely top-class, but it was preceded by a seven-pass sequence where the Union defense maybe could have done more. At the start of the move, both Luke Mulholland and Morales navigate past Brian Carroll with ease before finding Olmes Garcia on the side of the 18-yard box. There, he squares up with Fabinho, delaying for almost an eternity before finally making a move. Though Fabinho, with the help of Carroll, manage to thwart his run and force him back out of the box, Garcia connects with an unmarked Morales just before Brian Carroll can take the ball off his feet. At that point, the Union realize they messed up.
Only a few seconds before the ball is played to Morales, Creavalle, residing deeper within the box, calls out for someone to put a body on the Argentine. Neither Roland Alberg, who is back on the play but is defending no one in particular, nor Creavalle are able to adequately close down Morales. As Creavalle hurries to put some pressure on the playmaker, Morales turns him around before sailing one over Blake. Prior to the play, Creavalle sunk into the box to cover Olmes Garcia's run. As Garcia made his way back out toward the touchline, Creavalle hung deep, marking no one in particular. At the same time, Roland Alberg had dropped back to defend, but not really with a purpose. When Morales receives the ball, he's a good ten yards behind him and already out of the play. The blame should really fall on both Creavalle and Alberg, as neither were positioned correctly, ceding space to a guy who has torn up MLS for years.
5.) Goal-line stand - The Union nearly equalized in the 89th minute, but Nick Rimando came up big to stop a shot from Brian Carroll. When the Union had another chance just seconds later, Rimando, or perhaps one of the two defenders who had dropped onto the goal line, saved the away side again. The saves and subsequent clearance led to a Joao Plata counter that nearly extended RSL's lead, but they had to settle for a lousy, one-goal victory in the end.