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MLS Preview: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake

Jul 3, 2013, 1:31 PM EST

Real Salt Lake v Chivas USA Getty Images
  • RSL is without four important pieces, including captain Kyle Beckerman
  • Philly young scoring ace Jack McInerney is missing, too
  • Real Salt Lake has won fourth in a row, one short a club record

Real Salt Lake never sought to rid itself of pieces that were so critical to the team’s success in recent years, including the 2009 MLS Cup title. Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola were valued figures – but figures whose salaries no longer made financial sense in a league of such tight financial structure, especially with such talented young men waiting for their minutes.

Players like Luis Gil (pictured), Devon Sandoval, Sebastian Velasquez, Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia, none older than 22, have given the team some highly productive minutes. So have defenders Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler, just a little further along in age. All of which is among the reasons RSL sits today atop the West with a league-leading 33 points.

Halfway through a season that management expected to be OK, but dented periodically with young-player inconsistency, fans around Rio Tinto can realistically begin wondering if this talented young assembly could make a Supporters Shield run.

Well, two things about any such visions:

First, the young guys absolutely have to bring it over the next few weeks, and they won’t have the “big brother” types around to guide them. Captain Kyle Beckerman, among the steadiest midfielders in MLS, goalkeeper Nick Rimando, right back Tony Beltran and forward Alvaro Saborio. All area away from international duty in the upcoming Gold Cup; Rimando, Beckerman and Beltran are U.S. internationals, while Saborio will compete for Costa Rica.

“Our belief in our depth continues to grow,” RSL manager Jason Kreis said. “I think everybody’s heading in the right direction. I’ve always said that’s what gets you results in this league, and I continue to think so.”

Still, it’s bad timing for Real Salt Lake, who just won their fourth consecutive league match, which is just one W short a club record. RSL won five in a row in 2010 and again in 2011. The latest was a 1-0 win last weekend at Toronto.

When the teams kick off tonight at Rio Tinto (10 p.m. ET; the official league preview is here), Philadelphia will also be dealing with a couple of player absences. The biggie is Jack McInerney, whose 10 goals continues to share the league lead. But the 20-year-old scoring ace has misplaced his striking touch lately, so perhaps some time in Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. camp will help “Jack Mac” put things right.

It’s his debut appearance in a full U.S. camp, so the opportunity is big. Besides, Conor Casey remains around to make up the difference, and his arrival into PPL Park, belated this year while he completed injury recovery, is one of the reasons John Hackworth’s young team has also been surprisingly successful.

OTHER NOTES: Union right back Sheanon Williams had two assists in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home with Dallas. … The Union is coming off three games at home, having taken seven of a possible nine points. … Philadelphia is 0-2 in games at Rio Tinto. … Real Salt Lake, in fact, has never lost to Philadelphia; the side from Utah is 2-0-3 overall in the series.

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