Philly Sports Network’s Union Crew preview: Will Union ride wave over RSL?


The Union found a way to get a huge three points on the road last weekend at Montreal. This win has the Union riding a wave after two bitter road defeats. That wave carries them to their match-up at home against Real Salt Lake. Our Philly Sports Network’s Union Crew preview if the Union will ride this wave to another victory or slip and fall into the rip current that is the mediocrity that has plagued Philadelphia for years.

Jeff Green:

I’m going to use the term “must win” again.  Looking at the Union’s schedule, this Saturday at home vs. Real Salt Lake will be their best shot at a win in the next two months, other than maybe a home match vs. Chicago in a few weeks.  RSL has been decimated by injury on the defensive side and it’s been directly reflected in their results.

They’ve surrendered 2.1 goals per game, which is only bested by Montreal’s dreadful 2.9 goals per game.  The key to stopping RSL, will be containing their outstanding young Czech DP midfielder, Albert Rusnak, who’s already tallied 3 goals and 3 assists on the season. Looks like someone made the right call on a number 10…

The Union are faced with a few decisions Saturday night, and that’s not something coach Curtain is deftly good at.  Cory Burke is out with a red card and CJ Sapong hasn’t trained all week. That leaves Jay Simpson, who doesn’t even remember what Chester looks like, or a faux #9 in Fafa Picault or David Accam.  

Look for Simpson to get the start. Another change I’d expect is Ilsinho back in for Marcus Epps at the right-wing. Epps didn’t play poorly last week, but I don’t think it was enough to keep Ilsinho out against a poor defensive squad again.  I’m going out on a limb and say the floodgates open!

prediction – Union: 3 RSL: 2

Union Man of the Match: Ilsinho

Matt McClain:

Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake are at the forefront of youth development. Both academies provide high quality talent for their respected first teams. This provides an interesting East vs West match-up of squads full of young talent.

Saturday night provides an opportunity for Philadelphia Union to solidify their positive ending to a rather dismal three match road trip. Their win at Montreal Impact created a rejuvenated buzz of sorts throughout the club since a young center back grouping produced another clean sheet, Andre Blake’s 20th of his young career.

In fact, Auston Trusty is playing so effectively while growing each week, that the US Men’s National Team will most likely select the youngster to play against Bolivia on May 28th at Talen Energy Stadium. Fans highlighted the struggles a young back line may cause since week one. Barring two 3-0 losses throughout the year, the defense hasn’t been the libel some fans predicted.

The offense, on the other hand, continues to be unpredictable in terms of how successful they will be each week. The first game of the three game road trip was ugly from the opening kickoff. The second match, at Columbus, proved a better overall match but the attack lacked a goal to show for it. Which leaves the three goal offensive explosion at Montreal, much to the surprise of PSN writers and fans alike.

Which makes tomorrow’s match an exciting matchup for Union fans considering Real Salt Lake’s defensive woes and depleted roster thanks to injuries. With the opportunity to bang home a few more goals, Jim Curtin will need to decide on a forward. Breakthrough performer Cory Burke is suspended due to his silly red card last Saturday and CJ Sapong is nursing an injury to his hip – he sustained that last match.

Expect to see an extremely aggressive beginning to the match tomorrow. Curtin mentioned yet again Wednesday that “we are a team built to play ahead.” Meaning, the first goal is by far the most important moment for Philadelphia each match. An early goal sets the tone for their defensive game plan while providing confidence boosts for a young defensive grouping. Jay Simpson could make an extremely rare appearance tomorrow night, considering the lack of depth up top.

Perhaps David Accam or Fafa Picault up top could provide an interesting offensive spark. Curtin didn’t reveal too much about his decision-making process, but mentioned Picault could be the more effective option considering his aerial skills and leaping abilities.

However, I’d personally like to see Simpson get a shot to do something with substantial playing time. We haven’t seen what Simpson can do with extensive game time, only brief appearances. Curtin should give the Englishman a chance to express his talents considering he’s been shackled behind Sapong for the past two plus years.

Union will win this match handily. There is a real sense of optimism and confidence throughout the locker room following their statement victory at Montreal. The team is motivated to provide fans another home win, something that’s been rare to start the 2018 campaign.

Prediction – Union: 2 RSL: 0

Union Man of the Match: Andre Blake (yet another clean sheet for the Jamaican would be nice to see)

Tim Lovenguth:

After a much need road win the Union head home in what is another crucial match. Any time you go up against an opponent from the opposite conference, you want to come out on top, especially when you’re at home! The union have a chance to gain some much need ground on the rest of the east against Real Salt Lake, but can they do it?

The Union are dealing with an interesting predicament; play one of your highest paid players at his natural position (Jay Simpson) or play one of your speedster’s there to try to create chaos on the break (Fafa Picault or David Accam). With CJ Sapong still dealing with an injury, and Corey Burke on a red card suspension, the Union are a bit thin at the striker position.

Much of the game-plan will revolve around what Jim Curtin decides to do at this spot. While he may be overpaid, and unproven, Jay Simpson deserves a shot to show he’s worth the money. If he starts, the Union will have a natural number nine, albeit playing in a system he doesn’t do well in, at the top. Should the union turn to their speedster’s at that positions, they’ll try to beat RSL with speed.

Picault and Accam can play the nine, but they will be like a false nine. Playing more to get in behind and create mismatches. Either way the Union will have a different look at the striker position. I think they’ll turn to either Fafa or Accam, even with Simpson’s high salary and point to prove. This, however is not the only position on the field that Curtin will have to make important decisions.

The back line is a place where there are many fighting for a shot at the starting 11. Mark McKenzie and Ray Gaddis played amazing games at Montreal, but Jack Elliot and Fabinho are on the mend. Will Curtin turn back to his normal starters or keep the players that help preserve three points last week?

Curtin usually keeps his same team that gets him a W, however playing at home I think he’ll make a chance at the back. I see Fabinho coming in for Gaddis, and McKenzie keeping his spot after a brilliant performance! The Union’s teenage center backs will have their hands full but should hold against RSL.

Real Salt lake posses a threat through their play-maker Albert Rusnak, and their infusion of young talent show that they are a formidable foe. However they have lost four out of five of their road matches this season and have yet to get a W on the road. Last week they struggled to beat a DC United side, that was down a man for most of the match, at home. The Union should be able to find a way to get three points from them. Their home record this past year speaks for itself!

Prediction – Union: 2 RSL: 0

Union Man of the Match: Borek Dockal

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Tim Lovenguth

Matt McClain

Jeff Green

Peace out Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports