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Real Salt Lake at Philadelphia Union - match preview

So we had 3 things that I thought RSL had to do in order to get a win at Columbus on Wednesday, get a good start, a high number of shots to pressure Hesmer, and a high completion rate of their passes (85%).  They did great with an early goal just as I thought we could, but then we ran off track a bit, just 11 shots (we had 25 against Vancouver) and just 77% on our passing accuracy.  I also thought it was interesting that we gave up the game winning goal in the final 10 minutes after taking off a forward and bringing on an extra defender.

Now we head to face the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia Union, a team with a very solid 6-3-3 overall record and one of 3 teams that remain undefeated at home (4-0-2).  The Union have scored just 15 goals (6 came in one match) and have allowed just 10 goals, their style is a much more defensive one than we saw from them last year.  Their "grind it out" style has worked as the team has just one loss in their last 5 matches, while RSL is still trying to get back to their early season form and have just one win in their last 5.

So if RSL is going to salvage anything from this one week roadtrip, they will need a result on Saturday against the Union.  I will be honest having dropped points in Columbus the team needs a win in Philly, as 1 point from a possible 6 simply isn't good enough.  For the Union a result ensures they at least keep part of the top spot in the East, a win helps they try to widen the gap between themselves and the New York Red Bulls.  So what are the things to watch for, what are the things that will make the difference in the match,

find out after the jump:

Key Match Up:

#1 defense in MLS vs #2 defense in MLS-

The Union have given up just 10 goals this year, while RSL have given up just 6 goals this year.  Nick Rimando has 6 clean sheets (RSL has 7) and Faryd Mondragon has 4 clean sheets, but no keeper would claim that they do that work alone, they all pay tribute to their defenders and teammates.  In this case perhaps no team in MLS has had a better defensive turnaround than the Union who last year allowed 1.63 goals per match for a total of 49 goals allowed in 2010, that number is double the 20 allowed last year by RSL.  This year the Union are allowing just 0.83 goals per match, and that has made all the difference between them being a bottom team in the Eastern Conference to being the top team in the East.

The Union have gotten consistency on defense, their top 6 players in minutes played this year include their keeper, who has played every minute and 4 defenders (Carlos Valdes -1080 minutes, Sheanon Williams -1063 minutes, Danny Califf -990 minutes, and Jordan Harvey -876 minutes).  That makes all of their jobs much easier, they learn what each other is capable of and can modify how they play to take full advantage of their strengths to cover any weaknesses. It is that type of collective team effort that has kept the Union in every match and more often than not that has lead to them getting points.

For RSL they have only allowed the opponent to score in 4 of their 11 matches this year, and nobody has scored more than 2 goals against them.  That has allowed the team to remain in matches despite the recent struggles on offense caused by injuries and national team call ups.  For RSL the motto has always been "everyone defends, everyone attacks" it is that team collective that last year had them set a record for fewest goals allowed (20) and has them on the pace of a similar type of year.  When your defense is centered around a top keeper in MLS, the 2010 MLS defender of the year, Jamison Olave, a defender or the year finalist, Nat Borchers, and the outside back rotation of Chris Wingert, Robbie Russell, and Tony Beltran, then toss in the solid backups of Chris Schuler and Rauwshan McKenzie and you have the top defensive unit in MLS.  The numbers don't lie and RSL will need a very solid defensive effort to get a result on Saturday.


Justin Mapp-

Mapp is no normal wildcard, he is a 10 year guy in MLS and always been a player that I think is a difference maker in matches.  For the Union this year he has only played 546 minutes due to various injuries and such, but he has scored two goals this year.  Yeah, I know that both of them came in that 6-2 thrashing of Toronto, but it was that second goal when the score was 3-2 that sealed the match.  He got the ball on a turnover, took a couple steps to get into position and fired a cracker of a shot that beat Stefan Frei like it was nobody's business.  That is the type of a player who can change matches, doing that consistently and dealing with an injury that was aggravated last weekend is what makes him a wildcard for this match.

Collen Warner -

While he has become a bit of a staple of the RSL lineup, he hasn't shown the same creative flair that he has shown in the past.  I think the pressure of filling in for Javi has lead him to worry about not making mistakes, instead of just doing what he is capable of.  I have to believe that this is something that Jason will work with him on, Collen has great vision of the field and is a very creative player, RSL need him to do what he did against Chivas last fall in Champions League action and what he did against New England earlier in the year.  That is take over the match and dictate what happens on both sides of the ball, he has capability to be that type of player and now he has the perfect chance to show that he can do it.

The Officials -

It doesn't matter who it is the reality is that the level of consistency and competency in MLS officials is under real scrutiny this season, and when you have multiple teams that have 25-35% of their goals coming from the PK spot it is no wonder.  I think we saw in the match last night how much of a difference things like the positioning of the officials can make on critical calls, it was a PK.  So knowing that there is no doubt that the officials will make a huge impact in the match on Saturday, they are wildcards.  As always my only hope is that they call the match the same way for both teams, and that when there is a doubt that they take a second and confer with their other officials to make smart and right decisions.

My Prediction:

So here are the three things I think RSL will need to do against the Union if they are going to get a result, first is possession.  The Union had just 44.5% in their 1-1 draw with Colorado last weekend, and even in their blowout of Toronto FC they only had 39.2%, and in their last home match, a 2-1 win over Chicago they had just 44% of the possession.  RSL will need to maintain their high possession style, 60.8% against FC Dallas, 55.9% against Seattle, 61.6% against Vancouver.  If RSL can manage 57% of possession or better I think it will translate into more opportunities to create good offensive chances, and that brings us to number 2 on my list. 

Shots, at Dallas we got 0 goals from 5 shots, against Seattle we got 1 goal from 16 shots, Vancouver saw us get 2 goals from 24 shots, and against Columbus we got 1 goal from 11 shots.  It is clear that when you take more shots you have a higher likelihood of scoring directly or at least in creating scoring chances.  I have to believe that for RSL that if they can get 20 shots in this match that they have a good chance of getting a goal and possibly 2.

The final thing for me is a complete effort, that means playing 100 minutes.  Yes 100 minutes, too often this year in MLS we have seen teams play 90 minutes only to give up goals in stoppage time, both at the half and the end of matches.  So if you mentally are planning on playing 100 minutes, then you should be prepared for whatever happens in the match.  We saw a late goal given up in Columbus and it cost the team a point.  It will be warm mid 80's and humid 60% or higher and maybe even storms in the area at match time on Saturday, so playing focused for every minute will be one of the keys for RSL.  It will also be an early match, something RSL don't do very often and that could throw some routines off a bit, being sharp early will again be a key.

I am going out on a limb and picking a 1-0 road win for the boys in Cobalt and Claret.