So there are two meanings to that title, first is that RSL in 6 meetings has never lost to the Union, and of course RSL will look to remain undefeated in week 6 of the 2014 MLS regular season. Since joining MLS, the Union are 0-2-4 with 5 goals scored and 9 goals allowed against RSL. Of course they have never lost to RSL at PPL Park, a pair of 1-1 draws and a 0-0 draw in the most current match in Chester. Last year the Union came close to beating RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium but a short handed stoppage time goal equaled the score at 2-2 and crushed the hopes of the Union fans for that first victory over RSL.
This year the Union have made some improvements to their roster, they picked up Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira, Fred, Austin Berry and most recently Andrew Wenger and with the first 2 have started all five of the Union’s matches and has helped their midifield lift it’s level of play. The Union will likely be without Danny Cruz and Sheanon Williams both of who are recovering from injuries, of course that is a mighty short list compared to the 11 players on the RSL list (some of who are possible or probable). RSL will be without Joao Plata, Nick Rimando, Luis Gil and most likely both Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert, but as has been the case since the start of the season there are guys who are stepping up to fill those spots, we saw both Rich Balchan, Abdoulie Mansally and Jeff Attinella all get their first starts of the season last week in a match where they played major roles in helping RSL keep a clean sheet in their 0-0 draw with Sporting KC.
So can RSL find a way to keep their streaks alive?
Last week RSL was put on their heels for most of the match, an aggressive SKC pushed the pace and the action, it was one of the few times in recent years that RSL lost the possession, passing, passing accuracy and shots margin in a match and they lost all of those by a big margin. However the Union aren’t the defending MLS Cup champions and while PPL Park has some great fans it isn’t as hostile to play in as Blue Hell. With the number of changes to the RSL defense last week, I understand why the team focused so much of their attention on defense, but this week to get a result they will need the confidence and swagger that RSL fans are used to seeing.
I expect that we will likely see even more changes to the normal starting XI than we did last week, but with the confidence of the very solid work last week and the offensive spark that Luke Mulholland brings to the midfield, I expect we might see RSL be more aggressive on both sides of the ball. Conor Casey is always found a way to play well against RSL no matter what team he has been on with, the result is 4 goals and 2 assists in the 8 matches he has faced RSL, but I have a lot of confidence in Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler to keep him in check. More of a question mark will be Leo Fernandes, played 86 minutes against RSL last year without doing any damage but this year has proven to be the top threat for the Union with 2 goals and 1 assist in just 236 minutes of action. Will his role be impacted by this weeks trade of Jack McInerney to Montreal and the arrival of Andrew Wenger? It will be interesting to see if the Union adjust their formation from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 to get either Wenger or Fernandes into a more attacking position against RSL.
One of the big questions for me will be which Alvaro Saborio shows up? Will we get the guy we saw against TFC who was all over the place on both sides of the ball, pushing the match and creating chaos, or will we get the more passive version that we saw against KC last weekend, where his hands were tied by less possession and a defense that plays very differently. A lot of that will depend on how Philly defends him and how the overall RSL possession and passing situation goes, I think with Okugo being paired with an inexperienced Aaron Wheeler that Sabo and his likely forward partner Olmes Garcia might find a way to keep the Union defense playing very tight, which should free up space for our midfielders and allow them to find both forwards in dangerous positions. On defense we will need another big match from Jeff Attinella, but I think we are just starting to understand how good he can be.
RSL should win this match, we have better talent up top, better talent in the midfield, and even with a less experienced back line I think they are up to the task. I picked RSL to win this match 2-1 earlier in the week with goals from Saborio and Mulholland, I am sticking with that prediction. I will say that it will be very interesting to see how Alan Kelly handles the match, this will be his first match as a MLS referee, hopefully he will let the play on the pitch determine the outcome and not his decisions.
That’s How I See It