CHESTER, Pa. – When the Philadelphia Union look at Real Salt Lake, they don’t see a team that owns just one win in their last five outings and has been struggling to find their form amidst injuries and international absences.
They see a team that won the 2009 MLS Cup, came into this season as one of the league’s premier franchises and nearly made history by advancing all the way to the CONCACAF Champions League final.
Thus, they expect Saturday’s game at PPL Park (4 pm ET, MatchDay Live) to be one of their toughest challenges yet.
“I think they’re getting it back,” Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. “They had a really hard stretch to go through the Champions League with that kind of pressure they had and the schedule and what it meant to them. I think I saw a little bit of a drop in form, and now they have some injuries and call-ups. But if you look back at the last several games, I see them as a team that is back and playing at their best.”
Luckily for the Union, RSL aren’t the only team playing their best. Led by the always-sturdy backline and a revitalized offensive attack, Philly haven’t lost since May 14 and are coming off a well-earned 1-1 road draw against the defending champion Colorado Rapids.
“For us, I wish we caught them right after the Champions League,” Hackworth said of RSL. “But I think we’re in pretty good form too, so I think it’s going to be a great contest. I think we’re going to see some quality soccer. It will just be a matter of who can execute when the opportunities rise.”
The Union have been wary to place extra emphasis on any one game, but it’s hard to deny the importance of Saturday’s contest.
With a 6-3-3 overall record, the Eastern Conference toppers continue to show they belong in the discussion as one of the league’s elite teams. Beating a team like Real Salt Lake (6-3-2), especially after getting a result on the road against the Rapids, will only further those claims.
“When you play the best teams in the league, you truly find out where you are,” Hackworth said. “Our league has so much parity that on any given day anyone can compete. That being said, when you play the MLS Cup champion or the team that’s No. 1 in the table, it’s different. You want to bring your best to prove you’re as good or better than that team. Having these two weekends back-to-back, one where we go on the road and one at home, is important to us.”
Of course, winning at home is always important for the Union, who have protected PPL Park with urgency and conviction this year. They currently boast a 4-0-2 home record, the league’s best mark.
“This is our home and we love playing here,” Hackworth said. “And we want to continue this little run that we’ve had.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.