After only what can be described lack-luster performance in Oregon last Saturday, Real Salt Lake will look to exploit their first home-ground advantage of the 2015 campaign. Returning to Rio Tinto will be a huge boost to the team who struggled offensively in Portland. Despite the draw last week, RSL retains much of their preseason momentum as they have yet to concede any goals. That said, the Claret-and-Cobalt will look to sharpen their movements in the attacking third and hope to earn a result against the Philadelphia Union.
The last time RSL and the Union met, both clubs felt like they could have done better after a 2-2 draw at PPL Park. The Claret-and-Cobalt managed to take the lead twice, only to have Philadelphia equalize twice. The RSL midfield stole the night scoring both goals after RSL forward Alvaro Saborio left much to be desired after having his penalty kick saved by Philadelphia net minder Zac MacMath. The most heart wrenching goal, for RSL fans, came in the 90th minute when the American International Maurice Edu found himself on the end of a beautifully curled corner kick from substitute Cristian Maidana and was able to put it in the back of the net, just passed the fingertips of Jeff Attinella. In 2015, however, expect the Claret-and-Cobalt to use their new formation to stretch the Philadelphia defense.
With many of the same players returning for the Union, the Union will appear to have more continuity than RSL on paper but several key personnel changes have left the Union with unknowns. After the loss of central defender Carlos Valdes - once again - the Union have a new partnership of Steven Vitória and youngster Ethan White on the backline. Despite not allowing Colorado even one shot on goal in their first match, several miscommunications by the new partnership lead to some silly mistakes that could have resulted in goals from more clinical finishers. Similarly, goalkeeper Rais M'bolhi was never challenged, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with pressure. It is these unknowns that could be the storyline for this match and will be a serious reason that RSL will expect to get a result at home.
Predicted Union Starting XI (4-1-3-2): M'bolhi; Williams, White, Vitória, Gaddis; Edu; Le Toux, Nogueira, Wenger; Aristeguieta, Sapong.
Being their first home match, RSL will look to throw everything they have - even the kitchen sink if necessary - at the Union to get a result at home. As this is the only regular season meeting between these two clubs this year, expect both teams to exploit the other's defense. Expect a physical match as Philadelphia is known to use strong forwards in their offense. Set piece defense will be particularly important, so RSL's defensive partnership of Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler will have to be especially solid with their marking on the night.
After the offense struggled to create chances in Portland, this match will be particular important for the Claret-and-Cobalt's attacking corps to find their shooting boots. Expect RSL to field a similar roster to the one used in Portland, but do not be surprised if new offensive options are made available on the bench or even in the starting XI. RSL will likely make tactical substitutions as needed, but expect offensive players to make up most of the subs as RSL's defense looks to remain solid.
Players to Watch
During the last regular season match of these two teams, skipper Kyle Beckerman was a key player. Not only did he remain strong in the defense, but Beckerman scored what appeared to be the winning goal in the waning minutes of the match - until Edu ultimately equalized. The skipper will also be key in this match as RSL continues to adapt to their new formation. Expect Beckerman to be the demonstrative figure throughout this match, as he will be responsible for foiling the Philadelphia attack and retaining possession for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
So after a couple of weeks of regular training with the squad, Demar Phillips finally looks ready to claim a starting XI spot for RSL. The Jamaican International will look to get back up to speed with the club, while also providing a veteran present as he overlaps in the offense - something that comes naturally to him. After a shaky appearance by Abdoulie Mansally against Portland, getting Phillips into the lineup will be essential in getting the Claret-and-Cobalt back into winning form.
Other names to keep an eye on are Olmes Garcia, Alvaro Saborio, and Sebastian Jaime. All of these attackers will look to open up their account for the season. More than that, these players will look to perform better than they did against Portland with the likes of Devon Sandoval and Jordan Allen nipping on their heels for a chance to start for RSL. Not only will the RSL offense be essential in this match, but it could be the difference maker against another hungry MLS side. Any of RSL's strikers could score the winning goal, but they will have to show that they can in order to keep their starting role for the club.
We'd like to know what you think. Do you think that there is anything we missed? Are there aspects of this match that we overlooked? What do you think this match means to Real Salt Lake? Share your opinions in the comments section below.