Real Salt Lake

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Rolling Union carry 4-game win streak to Utah

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
8:00 p.m. on CSN
 
Hitting the road with a club record four-game win streak at their back, the streaking Union (4-4-4) will face a cross-country test Saturday, as they take on Albert Rusnak and inconsistent Real Salt Lake (3-8-2) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
 
Here are five things to know.
 
1. Keeping momentum
With four-straight wins and six unbeaten to catapult them up the Eastern Conference standings and nearly in playoff position, the Union are rolling. 
 
But despite the hot streak, Union manager Jim Curtin doesn’t want his club’s demons returning.
 
“The biggest thing we’ve tried to stress how hard we had to work to get out of that hole and the feeling we had while we were in that hole, we don’t want that back ever against,” Curtin said, with regards to the Union going winless in their first eight games of the season. “The good run of games helps that and the performances have been really good, but you’re guarding against that ever creeping back in and kicking it down when it does.”
 
Curtin shouldn’t have to worry about that. His players have proven to possess a steady mental quality, one they put on display throughout the eight-game winless streak to start the season. There wasn’t infighting or finger-pointing, the club went to work and are now fighting for a playoff position.
 
“We’re not going to get too high or get too low,” Curtin said. “We’re going to stick with what we believe in.”
 
Along with mental strength, Union leading scorer C.J. Sapong, who has eight goals on the season, believes it’s positive vibes that will help the team continue its streak in Utah.
 
“It’s the collective energy of the group,” he said. “Through our rough spell, we still had belief in ourselves. We finally got that one win and have been flying high since then.”  
 
2. Haris on fire
Playing quarterback of the Union’s offense and spearheading his club’s recent hot streak, Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin is quickly warming up to MLS.
 
“Haris has been excellent for us,” Curtin said. “There’s a couple statistics now where we’re at the top of the league and he has one — it’s called usage percentage. Fourteen-percent of our touches are distributed by him, so if you want him to be a quarterback, point guard, he’s third in the league in that. We want him on the ball as much as possible and that’s including restarts where he’s proven to be lethal.”
 
Lethal is right. After registering three assists in his first nine MLS games, the veteran defensive midfielder is pacing the Union’s attack, scoring two goals and two assists over the Union’s last four wins. That includes the game-winner against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday, where he ripped a free kick through the Rapids’ defensive wall to beat Tim Howard from just outside the box.
 
And while Medunjanin is known as an adept playmaker, it’s that free-kick scoring ability that takes his game, and the Union offense, to another level.
 
“He has an ability to serve a ball to get an assist and the shooting he possesses to win a game for you, it’s huge,” Curtin said. “Other teams have to be cautious in and around the box which leads to us being more dangerous around the box.” 
 
3. Trusting the process
The Union and RSL have a lot in common this season. Both teams went winless from August onward to finish the 2016 season and both clubs suffered losses in the early going of 2017, falling to the bottom of their respective conferences.
 
The difference is while the Union have recovered from that depressing ordeal, RSL hasn’t.
 
“The process is going,” said RSL coach Mike Petke, who took over the team in late March. “It takes a while and you have to be willing to go over a lot of speed bumps. We’re working through some stuff and we’ll be better off in the end.” 
 
While RSL has five losses in their last six matches, the players do feel that tide turning. 
 
“You gotta keep pulling out the positives of every game we play and keep building on them,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “We have to keep working on the positives, shooting and hopefully we’ll find the back of the net here.” 
 
With a 2-1 home win over New York City FC on May 17, RSL traveled to CenturyLink Field last weekend, where they stood toe-to-toe in a 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders. They were not outmatched, which should give the Union pause. 
 
“I consider it a loss on paper but we gained so much in there,” Petke said. “To look at the game and rewatch it again, the players did 95% of what we wanted. It was ugly, we dumbed it down because that’s what we had to do. We were bleeding goals so we wanted to limit certain things. It’s an incredible stepping stone. But it’s all for nothing if they don’t carry it into the Philadelphia game.” 
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Albert Rusnak: While RSL doesn’t have much going for it offensively, it’s not for lack of trying from Rusnak. The 22-year-old first-year MLS midfielder has three goals and four assists in 11 games. He’s the player the Union will have to stop Saturday.

Haris Medunjanin: The midfielder will look to keep his hot streak alive Saturday, as he goes for his fifth point in five games. It’s becoming abundantly clear that as Medunjanin goes, so does the Union.

5. This and that
• In the Union’s history, they have never defeated RSL. The club is 0-3-6 all-time against the Western Conference side.

• During the Union’s 4-0-0 streak, they have outscored opponents, 11-1. The lone goal against came in the first half of the Union’s come-from-behind win over the Rapids on Saturday.

• Despite a very success past few weeks, the Union are picking up injuries. Midfielder Fabian Herbers strained his hip/groin against the Rapids. He’s out two-to-four weeks. Roland Alberg is also expected to be out with a quad injury. Defender Josh Yaro is healthy and training with the team but is a conditioning track. 

• For the hosts, MLS veteran Tony Beltran is expected back in the lineup against the Union. The defender missed 10 matches with back and calf injuries.

With shaky second half, Union fall to Real Salt Lake

With shaky second half, Union fall to Real Salt Lake

CHESTER, Pa. — With a pair of second-half goals separated by just six minutes, Real Salt Lake stunned the slumping Union, 2-1, on Sunday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

“We don’t like to lose in this building,” said Union manager Jim Curtin. We need to get points, that’s clear. "We need to take advantage of the hard work that we put in in the beginning of the year and the breaks will start bouncing our way again.”

The loss continues a disturbing slide for the Union, who are now 1-4-1 in their last six games and sinking down the Eastern Conference standings. With the victory, RSL snaps a six-game winless streak. 

“We know we’re a good team and we can win games,” said Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. “We’re just going through a phase right now and we think we have to weather the storm, keep together and get it right.”

While the second half went to RSL, the first half was all Union. Led by Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Roland Alberg, the Union, who were without suspended Tranquillo Barnetta, owned the early scoring chance advantage, rattling off a series of near-misses. That hard work would eventually pay off in the 42nd minute.

With a brilliant pass that slipped by three RSL defenders, Pontius found C.J. Sapong in the box, with Aaron Maund draped on his back. Looking to make the turn with possession, Sapong was hauled down, earning the foul and penalty kick. 

“I was just trying to get away from wrestling with them because I think that’s the game that they like,” Sapong said. “On the PK, he pulled me down and that was good. I like my work rate, but I think I would just like to be more dangerous toward goal.” 

Facing the more-than-capable Nick Rimando, Alberg lined up at the spot and laced the stutter-step step goal inside the left post for the 1-0 advantage in the 44th minute.

It was Alberg’s seventh goal of the season and fourth penalty kick goal.

But RSL would counter in spectacular fashion. Buzzing around the Union box in the 48th minute, Joao Plata ripped a right-footed shot that curled over Andre Blake and in, tying the match at one. Six-minutes later, Javier Morales handed RSL the 2-1 lead, when he found space and floated a light right-footed shot over Blake into the left corner. 

“They had two very good goals,” said Union defender Ken Tribbett. “Maybe we could get a step closer to try to block the shots, but those are two world-class goals. Give them a little bit of credit, they’re putting it in the upper 90.”

Aching to equal the score, the Union put on an attacking clinic in the final moments of regulation, but Rimando had the answer. Brian Carroll ripped a shot from the slot that was blocked away by Rimando, who doubled his effort on the rebound save.

Rimando set an MLS record on Sunday with his 412th start.

“At halftime, it came down to a lot of guys looking at each other in the eyes and putting the work in to get the result,” he said. “That’s exactly what happened in the second half. We dug in, committed to defending and got two special goals from our big players.”

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Looking for spark against Plata, Real Salt Lake

Union-Real Salt Lake 5 things: Looking for spark against Plata, Real Salt Lake

Union vs. Real Salt Lake
7:00 p.m. on CSN

After suffering their worst loss of the season, a 5-1 thrashing by the Montreal Impact, and getting ejected from the U.S. Open Cup by the New England Revolution, the Union (8-7-6) will regroup and return home on Sunday night to challenge Joao Plata and Real Salt Lake (8-6-7) at Talen Energy Stadium. 

Here are five things to know:

1. Recovery Path
It’s been a rough couple months for the former first-place Union. In all competitions since June 18, they are 3-5-1 (2-4-1 in MLS), and sinking in the Eastern Conference. 

“It’s been a tough stretch,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We would’ve like to get a few more points, but we like where we’re at in the table. We set ourselves up to play in front, which is different than last year when we were chasing it at this point.”

But while Curtin identifies the Union’s recent lag as tough scheduling during the summer, he knows the turnaround needs to begin at home against Real Salt Lake. With 13 games remaining in the season, the club risks falling behind in the conference even further.

“We know there’s urgency,” he said. “We need to close out the season out in the right way, and we expect to do that starting at home against Salt Lake on Sunday.” 

A portion of that urgency is generated from the team’s need to erase the 5-1 loss to the Impact they embarrassingly suffered last weekend. Though Curtin shook it off as a one-off defeat, the club hopes it doesn’t trigger a confidence drain.

“It wasn’t a good representation of us,” Curtin said. “Or the work the guys have done all year. But we move on, we look forward to the new challenge. I know my guys will bounce back against Salt Lake in this building, they’re itching to get back on the field.”

2. Fixing the Defense
As Curtin put it, the Union need to “close out the season out in the right way,” starting on Sunday. But to do that, they need to play a defensively sound style -- something they’ve gotten away from in recent weeks.

The Union have allowed 17 goals in their last seven games.

“We’ve given up too many goals in that stretch,” Curtin said. “That’s what jumps out. It’s no longer a one-off, it’s a trend. We’re giving up too many goals.”

The latest defensive flop, which Curtin chalked up to lack of focus and a push for too much pressure on the road, was allowing five goals to the Impact. And though it was painful, the loss may work as a wake-up call for the Union.

“Prevalent in all of our psyches is the humbling experience that we did have,” Union forward C.J. Sapong said. “That’s only going to give us motivation to show we’re made of more. We know we are, it’s about us proving it.”

3. Struggles in Salt Lake
The season has gone dry for RSL of late, though that doesn’t mean the club has been poor. Salt Lake is winless in its last six games but has grinded out four draws over that span.

“We see it as an opportunity to go on the road and pick up some points,” RSL’s Luke Mulholland said. “That’s where all our focus is on this week. It’s always great to have games at home, but the away games have been falling for us recently, it isn’t the worst thing to go on the road for a couple games and see if we can come back for a few points.”

As usual, Curtin isn’t buying into the struggles of his opposition.

“Salt Lake is a very good team,” he said. “And a very dangerous team. They’re in a bit of a cold spell. They will come in here with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.”

But what makes RSL such an interesting cause is its allowed seven goals but only scored three times in the six-game winless run. It’s that return to offensive prominence. 

“The scary thing is that they could break out,” he said. “That’s what we have to prevent.” 

4. Keep an eye on
Real Salt Lake - Joao Plata: With leading scorer Yura Movsisyan out for Sunday, it’ll be up to playmaker Plata to find the Union’s weak spots. Plata, in addition to his five goals, leads RSL with seven helpers on the season.

Union - Roland Alberg: He will be leaned on to pace the Union attack with Tranquillo Barnetta out with a yellow-card accumulation suspension. Curtin will likely add a more defensive Warren Creavalle to Barnetta’s box-to-box midfield spot, leaving Alberg as the go-to in the Union midfield.

5. This and that
• Good news for the Union: Maurice Edu, who suffered a fractured leg in the preseason and has been out all year, is in full training with the club. He will not dress on Sunday, however. 

“In terms of the change of direction, going into tackles, fighting, he looked very good,” Curtin said. “I think it’s getting better and better each day. I’m excited for the rest of the season, I’m excited with him playing a role down the stretch.”

• Andre Blake and Keegan Rosenberry make their return from the MLS All-Star game, which happened on Thursday. The MLS All Stars lost to Arsenal, 2-1. 

• The Union are 0-2-6 against RSL all time and 0-0-4 at Talen Energy Stadium.