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Real Salt Lake vs. Philadelphia Union - 3 Questions

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Well, I am back in Salt Lake City for a bit and as I was leaving San Francisco I had a chance to exchange 3 questions with Scott Kessler of "The Brotherly Game" SB Nation's Philly soccer blog. Here are the three questions I put to Scott and his replies:

1- For months it was Philly and NYRB at the top of the East but now neither are in the top 3, what has happened to the Union?

A: Two trades/transfers and a lack of depth.

Trading Jordan Harvey started the problems and selling Carlos Ruiz exacerbated them, as well. The Union have been poorer in two out of three major facets of the game - offense and defense - since Harvey and Ruiz departed from Philadelphia. Statistically the Union are hurting, which was broken down in a fanpost on the Brotherly Game last week.

Gabriel Farfan has stepped up amiably since taking over from Harvey at left back, playing almost every minute possible at the position. Sebastien Le Toux has yet to score, but does have eight assists, which is among the most in MLS. Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga and Veljko Paunovic have attempted to fix the Union's scoring woes with some progressive success, but not enough to the point where fans (or the team) are happy.

Still, the Union have managed to remain in the playoff picture despite going 0-2-3 in their last five games.

The rest of my questions and Scott's answers after the jump:

2- Well the Carlos Ruiz experiment is over, he scored 6 goals while there but I consider his stay actually hurt the team more than he helped, what is your take on his stay in Philly?

Ruiz is a great player when he wants to put in the effort, but he wasn't the right player for the Union, nor the city of Philadelphia. This area is built upon blue collar ideals and Ruiz is the embodiment of the opposing thought of those ideals.

There is a perception of laziness about his play, which is somewhat true. Detractors point to many things that are misconstrued as laziness, when in reality it's his way of conserving energy to make quality runs through the defense. It's fair to say that Ruiz chooses when he wants to put in the effort, which is something that just does not fly in Philadelphia. Players like Chase Utley, Brian Dawkins, Pete Rose and Sebastien Le Toux are fan favorites because the effort and work ethic are evident to those that watch them. That's how a player becomes beloved in Philly.

That being said, six goals are six goals. Most came from the right side of the field, about half were either game tying or winning finishes. Not enough can be said about Ruiz's ability to score and do so when it mattered, but the effect on the tactics of the team were detrimental overall. Head coach Piotr Nowak took much of the season to finally decide that Ruiz wasn't a target striker, allowing the Guatemalan to break free of a back-to-the-goal role and he flourished post-Gold Cup because of that. Then he was sold.
At some point Mwanga and Le Toux will get their scoring consistency back from 2010. When that happens, watch out. The question, though, is when?

3- So as a second year team, that struggled last year but one that has shown better this year, what are the expectations, the honest expectations for this year?

At this point, given depth and the level of play from the starting cast, I think the Eastern Conference championship is reasonable, but a wild card spot and second round berth are fine expectations from the team. There just isn't a completeness to the team this season, even with all of the improvements that have been made this year.
Once the playoffs come along it's going to be clear that the team needed more depth, and a larger roster, because the Union are playing a game every 4.7 days starting September 2. That will wear on a squad that has less than the minimum 18 senior roster players on its payroll.

You can expect to see Scott's questions for me and my responses at The Brotherly Game.