Shorthanded on defense, Union ponder ways to stop RSL

Sheanon Williams

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CHESTER, Pa. — It’s difficult enough to take points from Real Salt Lake on the road.

For the Philadelphia Union, Saturday’s game against RSL at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) will be even more difficult because of the suspension of one of the anchors of their team, central back Carlos Valdés, who has to sit out because of yellow-card accumulation.

Union manager Peter Nowak said he could slide right back Sheanon Williams (above) over to center back, as he did in a game vs. Portland in May, or replace Valdés directly with Stefani Miglioranzi or Juan Diego González, who started seven games at center back in 2010 but has yet to log a minute this year.

PREVIEW: Union drop in on RSL
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“We have to choose the best approach so our back line will stay consistent and strong,” Nowak said. “Lately, we’ve been giving up too many goals. And that needs to change. We need to improve this and make sure we play a secure game, especially in the back.”

The Union’s defense may be further hampered by the absence of defensive midfielder Brian Carroll (foot contusion), who is listed as doubtful after being sidelined for Philly’s most recent game, a 2-1 loss to Columbus on Aug. 20.

But Real Salt Lake will also come into Saturday’s game shorthanded, with a staggering 13 players listed on their injury report and four more on the international absence list.

Of course, RSL have been dealing with those issues for much of the season and still boast an impressive 11-7-6 overall record and an even more impressive 8-2-3 mark at home.

“This is a team that, basically with the same roster, won the [2009] MLS Cup, so my message was very clear,” Nowak said. “Let’s not fool ourselves with call-ups, injuries and all that stuff. They are still a team that is very consistent at home. They protect these grounds very well and play very good as a team.”

The Union — who played a similarly undermanned RSL squad to a draw at PPL Park in June — were supposed to play at Rio Tinto Stadium on April 13 but that game was moved because of RSL’s participation in the CONCACAF Champions League final.

Now, with the playoffs looming and the Union looking for their first win since the middle of July, the matchup will take on even more urgency.

“This is a very important game,” midfielder Veljko Paunović said. “From now on, all matches to come are very important.”

Added striker Sébastien Le Toux, “We know they’re very good at home. But if we’re organized and good on the counterattack and make good things happen offensively, I’m sure we’ll be OK.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.