SANDY — Only three teams in MLS have won more games on the road than they’ve lost this season, and one of those teams will stroll into Rio Tinto Stadium this weekend.
A perennial playoff bubble team, the suddenly surging Philadelphia Union roll into Utah with a potent attack that ranks second in MLS with 39 goals scored.
The Union are 4-3-3 away from home this year, including a win last week at Orlando and a 2-1-1 record over the past six weeks.
“They’re doing something right. It’s going to be a really tough game this weekend,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.
During its recent busy stretch of three games in eight days, Real Salt Lake played OK in grinding out shutout wins over both Kansas City and Columbus to earn maximum points at home. Both of those teams, however, are below the playoffs lines in their respective conferences.
With Philadelphia this weekend and Minnesota next weekend, RSL will face much tougher competition the next two weekends as it looks to climb out of eighth place in the Western Conference and into a playoff position of its own.
“These teams that we play in the next two weekends are really good teams,” said Brooks Lennon. “No matter who the team is, we have to pick up points at home. Our style of play at home, we can kill teams at home with the players we have, with the altitude. If we just keep that same mentality that we had last week with those two home wins, that will help us out.”
Sam Johnson scored all three goals for RSL in those two games, but coach Mike Petke said earlier this week that Johnson won’t be available as he continues to rehab from the thigh injury that knocked him out at halftime against Columbus.
In his absence, RSL's other attacking players need to pick up the slack in the attacking third, which won’t be easy against a quality Philadelphia squad.
Philly’s surge has seemingly come out of nowhere. In its nine seasons since joining MLS, it has only qualified for the playoffs three times, and the last two times (2016, 2018) were as the last seed from the Eastern Conference.
Mike Petke said patience has been one of the keys to Philly’s surge.Comment on this story
“I’m impressed with Philly. First from the standpoint that for years they didn’t put it together and they gave Jim (Curtin) time in their structure to build something, and it took years and years and years and now you’re seeing the payoff,” said Petke.
RSL’s coach said the Union move the ball very well, have dangerous attacking players and play disciplined, stingy defense.
Real Salt Lake has been equally as stingy at home during its four-game winning streak at the Riot that includes shutouts over Toronto, Kansas City and Columbus and then a 2-1 win over Atlanta.
A fifth straight win against Philadelphia would be a massive three points heading into next weekend’s tough conference game with Minnesota.