To say there are easy games in MLS is a bit naive. Even Chivas USA won a handful of matches last season, and Real Salt Lake fans know all too well what happened against bottom-feeder D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final last year.
While no match is inherently easy, there are certainly stretches of the MLS season that are more advantageous than others, and for Real Salt Lake one of those stretches is just around the corner.
Before settling into a favorable stretch featuring four of six at Rio Tinto Stadium beginning next weekend, unbeaten RSL will try and put the finishing touches on a challenging six-game stretch to open the 2014 season this Saturday at Philadelphia (2 p.m., Ch. 4).
“It’s another tough road game. We’ve started this season and we’ve already had three very difficult games on the road and this is the fourth one. We’ve got to be ready,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers.
Real Salt Lake is 1-0-2 on the road so far in 2014, including a gutty 0-0 draw at Kansas City in which three reserves came up huge to preserve the clean sheet.
In particuar, backup 'keeper Jeff Attinella — who gets the nod in place of injured Nick Rimando again this weekend — came up big, earning the praise of his opponents with a nine-save effort.
“If we are going to outpossess a team, create that many more chances, have that many more shots and not win, somebody is going to have to play well on the other team and it's probably their goalkeeper,” said Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber last week.
While Rimando has already been ruled out, injured defenders Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert are questionable after sitting out last weekend but training this week.
With 11 players on the injury report this week, Real Salt Lake’s much-touted depth is going to get tested one way or another.
This Saturday is RSL’s fourth visit to Philadelphia since the Union joined the league in 2010. Each of the previous three meetings ended in draws.
“It’s a real tough place to play,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar. “John (Hackworth has) them really organized now, they have some dangerous players in (Conor) Casey and (Sebastian) Le Toux up top, and they’ve added a few nice pieces, guys that can play good soccer.”
The most noteworthy of those additions is U.S. national team midfielder Maurice Edu, who spent the past four seasons playing in Scotland and England. He’s started all five matches for the Union this season, notching a goal and an assist.
His presence gives Philadelphia a legitimate star roaming the midfield, someone RSL must be alert to all game.
“(They’re) more dynamic and mobile midfield for sure. He covers a lot of ground. He’s got a very good sense of positioning. He can strike a ball from distance,” said Borchers.
Philadelphia is coming off a 2-2 draw at Chicago last weekend, a game in which goalkeeper Zac MacMath helped preserve a point with a stoppage-time penalty kick save on reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee.
RSL, meanwhile, is coming off a road performance in which it was outshot 20-5. Generating a few more chances going forward will certainly be a priority.
“We’re going to go in there and try and play our game and get after them a bit,” said Cassar.
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