ALTHOUGH THE Union's first game of the season lacked goals, it did not lack intrigue. That was especially true when it came to the decisions manager Jim Curtin made as he looked to break through the Colorado Rapids' miserly defense.
In the first half of last Saturday's 0-0 tie, Curtin deployed two strikers, lining up new signings Fernando Aristeguieta and C.J. Sapong next to each other. Because they haven't been together for long, it was likely the best way for both to get on the field.
But doing so came at the expense of playing Cristian Maidana, the Union's best creative force and distributor of the ball from midfield. So it wasn't too surprising when the Union played a brand of soccer that was fast and direct, but not always pretty.
As the first half drew to a close, it became increasingly clear that Maidana's ability to keep possession of the ball might help settle the frenetic action. But his eventual arrival at halftime came for the wrong reason: Sapong took an inadvertent elbow to the head from Rapids midfielder Lucas Pittinari, and suffered a concussion.
That was the initial postgame diagnosis, at least. On Wednesday, the Union learned that Sapong's injury was even worse, as he suffered a fractured bone in his left cheek too. It's not yet known how much time he'll miss, but it could be a while.
So Curtin will likely turn to the formation he used in the second half, with Aristeguieta as a lone striker and Maidana behind him. That lineup produced a much smoother style of play, but it also slowed the pace.
In addition to tactical preferences, Curtin said one of the reasons Maidana didn't start in the opener was an inconsistent preseason. But the Argentine stepped up in the days leading up to the game, and Curtin said his strong form has continued since.
"This week he has looked as sharp as ever," Curtin noted. "We put the best team on the field in Week 1 based on preseason. Now we have to adjust."
Tomorrow, the Union will visit one of the Western Conference's perennial powers in Real Salt Lake. RSL, like the Union, don't have the financial clout of Los Angeles and Seattle. But thanks to midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and forward Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake has consistently produced some of MLS' most entertaining soccer.
Add to that the high altitude of Utah's Wasatch Range and the always-loud crowds at Rio Tinto Stadium, and it makes for a tough test.
"They have a lot of players that can make situations uncomfortable for us," Union defender Sheanon Williams said. "To be honest, we don't necessarily need to have the ball the whole time . . . We just have to be patient with our defending, and just wait for moments where we can press them and get at them or nick things off the counter."
was suspended one game by the league and fined for a hard foul on the Union's
in the 81st minute. And, Rapids defender
was fined for taking too long to leave the field after being ejected.