Although the Union's first game of the season lacked goals, it did not lack intrigue. That was especially true when it comes to the decisions manager Jim Curtin made as he looked to break through the Colorado Rapids' miserly defense.
In the first half, Curtin deployed two strikers, lining up new signings Fernando Aristeguieta and C.J. Sapong next to each other. Because the two new players haven't been together long, it was likely the best way to get them both 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 Sapoing's injury was even worse, as he suffered a fractured bone, too, in his left cheek. He could be out a while.
So Curtin will likely turn to the formation he used in the second half Saturday, 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 Saturday was an inconsistent preseason. But the Argentine stepped up in the days leading up to the season opener, and Curtin said his strong form has continued.
On Saturday, the Union will visit one of the Western Conference's perennial powers in Real Salt Lake. Thanks to midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales and forward Álvaro Saborío, RSL has consistently produced some of MLS's most entertaining soccer.
Add to that the high altitude of the 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."
Notable. Colorado's late-game theatrics that helped keep the Union's offense at bay did not go unnoticed by Major League Soccer's disciplinary committee. Rapids defender James Riley was suspended one game and fined for a hard foul on the Union's Andrew Wenger in the 81st minute, and defender Bobby Burling was fined for deliberately taking too long to leave the field after being ejected in the 68th minute.
Union at Real Salt Lake
What: Major League Soccer,
Union (0-0-1) at Real Salt Lake (0-0-1)
When: Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah
TV: The Comcast Network
Last meeting: A 2-2 tie at PPL Park in April 2014. The Union twice came from behind to level the score, including a 90th-minute goal from Maurice Edu.
Outlook: The Union have never beaten RSL in seven meetings, but the last three encounters have been ties. Two years ago, on their last trip to the Wasatch Range, the Union were on course for a win but gave up a penalty kick seven minutes into second-half stoppage time. ... RSL and U.S. national team goalkeeper Nick Rimando remains MLS's best netminder. Last weekend he made five saves, many spectacular, to preserve a scoreless draw at Portland. ... RSL midfielder Luis Gil is one of the most promising young Americans in MLS. The 21-year-old already has two senior national team caps and is likely to be part of this summer's Gold Cup squad. - Jonathan Tannenwald