Match Preview: Union looks to stay unbeaten in Subaru Park return against Real Salt Lake

Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

After serving their bye-week in Gameweek 9 of the MLS season, the Philadelphia Union are set to return to action with a Subaru Park showdown against Pablo Mastroeni’s Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.

The match against one of the Western Conference’s hottest teams to start the 2024 season comes on the back of a come-from-behind draw on the road against Atlanta United for the Union that saw Mikael Uhre and Kai Wagner erase a 2 goal 2nd half deficit in a matter of minutes to scrape out a point on the road for the Blue and Gold. Can DOOP keep the good vibes going and come out of Matchday 10 remaining as Major League Soccer’s only unbeaten team?

Union, MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Season So Far – Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake comes into Matchday 10 sporting a record of 4W-3D-2L for 15 points through 9 games, and are unbeaten in their previous 5. 15 points is currently good enough to put RSL at 3rd in the Western Conference and 5th in the Supporters Shield standings. Real Salt Lake is one of a small handful of teams in MLS with a better record on the road than at home to start the season, grabbing 8 points in 5 games away from Sandy, UT (2W-2D-1L).

RSL‘s notable performances to start the season include a 3-0 win in the snow against LAFC, a 2-1 win on the road in Vancouver, a 3-1 win against St Louis, a 0-0 Draw against Columbus – the reigning Champs – and a 4-0 win on the road against Chicago Fire.

RSL’s 15 goals in 9 games are tied for 4th best in Major League Soccer, and they are currently one of the top teams in the league in attacking statics such as Expected Goals (13.4 – 5th) and Total Shots (130 – 4th) Shots on Target per 90 Minutes (14.44 – 5th), Key Passes (97 – 3rd) and Passes into the Final Third (337 – 2nd).

Though RSL’s attacking numbers are pretty solid, all of their offense is running through 1 player – Cristian Arango. Of Real Salt Lake’s 15 goals scored this season, Arango has had a hand in 14 of them (8G-6A), including multi-goals games against Chicago and St Louis. Besides Arango, just 1 RSL player has more than 1 goal with Carlos Gomez notching 3 (2 coming in 1 game against LAFC).

Defensively, Real Salt Lake is tied for the least amount of goals conceded in Major League Soccer – a stat that truly surprised me. You don’t think of RSL as one of the stronger defensive sides in the league, but their 9.1 expected goals allowed (4th best) shows they have a good structure in their backline. Much of their success defensively can be attributed to the 36 saves split between young Gavin Beavers and former Union keeper Zac MacMath – who will hopefully be between the posts Saturday night.

Union, Union II
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union II

Season So Far – Union

Union comes into Saturday’s match against RSL as the only unbeaten team in Major League Soccer. 3W-4D-0L to start the season for a total of 13 points through 7 games, good enough for 6th in the Eastern Conference and 12th in the Supporters’ Shield race – but they sit just 5 points behind with 2 or 3 games in hand on most teams ahead of them.

Union is unsurprisingly being led by their Front 3 in the attack, with Julian Carranza and Daniel Gazdag scoring 4 goals in 6 games, and Mikael Uhre scoring 3. Quinn Sullivan has chipped in 1 goal and 2 assists so far this season but has been instrumental in creating chances for this Union team, leading the team in progressive carries, progressive passes received, and goal-creating actions.

One of the most eye-opening stats is Union’s 33 carries into the penalty area, or an average of 4.71 per 90 minutes through 7 games. Union totaled just 96 across 34 games last season, an average of 2.82 per 90 minutes. The reason for that is almost entirely Quinn Sullivan, who is responsible for 13 of those 33 carries into the penalty area.

Defensively, the Union have conceded 9 goals which is tied for the 2nd best in MLS – though they’ve played a few games less than most other teams around the league. Despite that, Union sports a 1.29 goals per 90 minutes average – tied for 5th best in MLS – and a 9.3 expected goals total – also 5th best in MLS.

Though their defensive stats show Union is on the right track, many feel this team still has another level to reach this season with just 1 clean sheet through 7 games. Some of that can be attributed to competing in CCC early this season and the rotation that comes with it, as well as Andre Blake being in and out of the lineup to start the year.

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Predictions – Lineups

Jim Curtin met with the media yesterday and gave some health updates. Both Leon Flach and Andre Blake have returned to full team training this week – Flach will be available off the bench Saturday night and Andre Blake will be more of a game-time decision. Damion Lowe has picked up a knock in training and is also a game-time decision against RSL.

With that in mind, I think this is how we’ll see the Union lineup on Saturday:

GK: Andre Blake (if he’s training, he’ll likely say he’s good to start)
RB: Nathan Harriel, CB: Jakob Glesnes, CB: Jack Elliott, LB: KaI Wagner
CDM: Jose Martinez
RCM: Quinn Sullivan, LCM: Jack McGlynn
CAM: Daniel Gazdag
ST: Julian Carranza, ST: Mikael Uhre

Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Predictions – Score

Don’t get It wrong – this is a tough test for Union. RSL is a strong team that plays well on the road and has a strong defensive structure, and it’ll be the first time all season that Union has faced a #9 that’s established in MLS and in dangerous form. The equation seems simple on Saturday night – score more goals than Cristian Arango can. Keeping Arango off the board entirely is a big task, but keeping him to just 1 and forcing other players from RSL to beat you has to be the mentality going into this one.

I think Union will be up for it, in front of their home fans for the first time in almost a month and on a beautiful Saturday night in late April weather. Union got it done 3-1. Julian Carranza scores, Mikael Uhre scores, and Daniel Gazdag scores his 56th goal in a Union shirt to make history and tie Sebastien Le Toux as Union’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Union MLS
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union