RSL hopes to get back to winning ways when the Philadelphia Union — who are on quite the hot streak — roll into town for the first and only meeting between the two sides in regular season play.
Where they stand
Real Salt Lake (3-8-2, 11 points) sit in 10th place in the West, only four points ahead of last-place Colorado who, by the way, still have two games in hand. Not only are RSL and Colorado at the bottom of the conference table, they’re at the bottom of the overall league table as well. With only one win in their last six outings (no draws!) and being outscored 15-3, RSL is in desperate need of some points if they plan on making a run up the table anytime soon.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the claret and cobalt, though, as the last two games have shown some significant improvement. Between players returning from injury, lineup modifications, and overall team chemistry starting to slowly come together, we’ve seen RSL start to play some fantastic-looking soccer.
Philadelphia (4-4-4, 16 points) currently sits in seventh place in the East as they’re on a four-game winning streak and unbeaten in their last six. Only one point behind the sixth-place Red Bulls, one would imagine it won’t be long before Jim Curtin and his boys are back in the playoff picture.
The Union are coming off of a 2-1 win at home against the Colorado Rapids last week that saw them come back from a 1-0 deficit, thanks to a penalty and a red card issued to Colorado.
RSL easily takes the cake in the all-time series history, holding Philly winless through nine matches since 2010 when they entered the league. RSL has three wins, while the other six games have ended in draws — only one of those being scoreless.
The last time they met, the game ended in a 2-1 win for RSL last year in Philadelphia. The visitors overcame a 1-0 deficit with goals from Joao Plata and Javier Morales, both within six minutes of each other. RSL was able to hold off the home side and hang onto a vital road victory.
Key players and personnel
Guess who’s back? Well, maybe. Tony Beltran successfully played 45 minutes with the Real Monarchs last weekend and has been back in training with the first team this week, which comes with a big sigh of relief after missing the last nine games in a row with a back injury. Whether he makes the starting lineup remains to be seen, but we can expect that he’ll at least be in the 18-man roster, ready to jump into action if duty calls.
Kyle Beckerman, on the other hand, will be forced to sit out this game as he’s been handed down a one-game suspension from the MLS Disciplinary Committee for violent conduct against Clint Dempsey in Seattle last week. We can most likely expect Luke Mulholland and/or Sunny to step in and fill his shoes, depending on what formation Mike Petke decides to go with this time around.
Regardless, we can look to Albert Rusnak to provide some quality attacking soccer this week, as he’s already proven he can do in glimpses this season. He can both provide service and put the ball in the net himself, as he has three goals and four assists on the season. As the team gets better and more comfortable, so does Rusnak.
On another note, Mike Petke opted to bench Yura Movsisyan last week and started Luis Silva in his spot while fielding a 4-4-2. After some rather blunt comments Movsisyan made in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune about feeling frustrated with his recent role on the team, it remains to be seen whether he’ll crack back into the starting XI this weekend or not.
On the Union side, they’re led by their top scorer CJ Sapong, who recently bagged his first career hat trick a few weeks ago against the New York Red Bulls. With eight goals and two assists this season, Sapong is having a top notch year so far and has been instrumental in the team’s about-face.
Backed up by a stacked midfield which includes MLS newcomer Haris Medunjanin, Roland Alberg, Ilsinho, and Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia is becoming a force to be reckoned with when they’re firing on all cylinders.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Andre Blake, their 2016 MLS All-Star and Goalkeeper of the Year award winner, who has helped earn the Union five clean sheets this season, four of which have come in their last five games.
Philly isn’t without their share of absences, though, as they have two players — Derrick Jones and Auston Trusty — who joined Brooks Lennon, Bofo Saucedo, Justen Glad, and Danny Acosta in the U-20 World Cup. They also took a big blow when midfielder Maurice Edu suffered a fractured fibula near the end of last season and has been on the road to recovery ever since.
Real Salt Lake is gearing up for another stretch of three games in eight days, as they play two matches in Texas next week, heading to Houston and then onto Dallas. It’s likely that we’ll see some lineup rotation over the next couple of games from Petke, but it’s impossible to predict who will start and who will rest.
While Philadelphia will look to keep their winning streak alive, RSL hopes to bounce back from the 1-0 loss to Seattle last week and keep the Union’s winless record against Salt Lake fully entact.
Real Salt Lake: Yura Movsisyan (4), Albert Rusnak (3), Luke Mulholland (2), Brooks Lennon (1), Aaron Maund (1)
Philadelphia Union: CJ Sapong (8), Haris Medunjanin (2), Fabrice Jean-Picault (2), Roland Alberg (2), Oguchi Onyewu (1)
Real Salt Lake
OUT: Chad Barrett (knee), David Horst (knee), Justen Glad (int’l duty), Brooks Lennon (int’l duty), Sebastian Saucedo (int’l duty), Danilo Acosta (int’l duty), Kyle Beckerman (suspension)
QUESTIONABLE: Jordan Allen (quad strain), Demar Phillips (hamstring)
OUT: Derrick Jones (int’l duty), Auston Trusy (int’l duty), Brian Carroll (lumbar disc herniation), Maurice Edu (tibia surgery), Joshua Yaro (shoulder surgery)
QUESTIONABLE: Roland Alberg (quad strain), Fabian Herbers (undisclosed injury)
Real Salt Lake: Rimando; Wingert, Schuler, Maund, Schmidt; Sunny, Rusnak, Mulholland; Savarino, Movsisyan, Plata
Philadelphia Union: Blake; Gaddis, Elliott, Onyewu, Fabinho; Bedoya, Medunjanin; Pontius, Ilsinho, Picault; Sapong
When: Saturday, May 27, 6:00PM MT
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT
Weather: 53 degrees, clear skies
Broadcast: KMYU, ESPN 700, MLS Live
Referee: Fotis Bazakos (2017 season: 5 games — 19 yellow cards, 0 red cards)