After a 0-0 draw at Portland last weekend, RSL will look to secure 3 important points at home Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union. Yes, I called these important points, the reality is the Eastern Conference is the weaker conference in MLS so every time RSL faces a Eastern Conference team at home 3 points are important and against a Union team that is really still looking for an identity and were very unimpressive at home in week 1, the points are very important.
The Union picked up a couple of DP’s last year to boost their roster, former USMNT player Maurice Edu to be their defensive leader and Cristian Maidana to be their offensive leader, they added a 3rd DP in forward Fernando Aristeguieta who is on loan to them, but if you watched their match last week against the Rapids, you saw a team that still has more questions than answers on the pitch. It is to be expected as Jim Curtin continues building the team he wants, I believe they have a lot of interesting pieces on their roster but as a team they seem to still be more interested in no losing than in winning matches. They will be looking for their first ever win over RSL they are 0-2-5 in matches against RSL, and are 0-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.
For Real Salt Lake, the transition to the 4-3-3 continues and as we saw often in the Desert Diamond Cup and last weekend in Portland, that formation can mean a lot of frantic action on both sides of the ball. Or does it just look that way? RSL had the edge in possession, overall they had a passing completion rate of 76% (a bit low for traditional RSL) but they 364 to 297 edge in passes over Portland. Where the formation may have fallen short of expectations was on the offensive side, where RSL managed 9 shots (Portland had 18) but only had 2 on goal. If RSL is going to be a more offensive team with this new formation, those numbers will have to go up.
Listen the Union are going to come into Rio Tinto Stadium looking for a draw, they are going to play solid defense and force RSL to break them down, something that may not be easy as the Union gave up just 2 shots and none on goal last week against the Rapids. The reality is that with Raymon Gaddis and Sheanon Williams are solid defenders, unknowns on the Union defense are new comers, Steven Vitoria CB and GK Rais MBolhi (is it me or have the Union had more keepers in 7 years than any other team in MLS?) so it is a unique combination on defense for the Union, who get their leadership from Edu in the d-mid role.
The questions on offense for the Union are simple, can LeToux find his form of a couple years ago, can Wenger prove that the Union got the better of the trade with Montreal, and can Miadana improve on 2 goals and 11 assists from last year? They will need at least 2 of those 3 to show themselves on Saturday if they expect to cause the RSL defense much trouble.
For RSL they simply have to continue their development in the 4-3-3, I thought the midfield did a lot of things right in Portland, and Olmes Garcia showed a work rate that could make him a valuable player this year. I expect a bit more from Saborio and Jamie in providing outlets for the midfielders, who it seemed were looking for somewhere to go with the ball in the first half of the match. RSL could get a boost as Demar Phillips should be able to go this weekend, he may not get the start but should he get in the match he has made the team good going forward.
We know the RSL defense is going to be solid, there is no better keeper week in and week out in MLS than Nick Rimando, Olave and Schuler may be the best DB combo in the league and Tony seems to have found a step of speed that was missing at the end of last year. I like Mansally but Phillips is a better overall player, so should we see Demar it could be really interesting. Clearly the 4-3-3 puts a bit more pressure on the defense as we move another player into a position further up the pitch, but the collective team effort on defense was shown clearly in Portland as you saw everyone putting in work on both sides of the ball.
I think we all expect to see a lot of goals from the new formation, the fact that we have so many guys who aren’t just good on the offensive side of the ball, but are great on it, should result in goals and there may be no better time to see those goals start coming than the home opener. I am going to pick a 2-0 RSL win with goals from Saborio and from Luis Gil.
That’s How I See It