Real Salt Lake concluded the first of two preseason trips in Arizona with a scrimmage against MLS newcomers Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The contest between the two sides was broken into three 45-minute segments, giving both teams the opportunity to try out different lineups.
“We wanted to get everyone about 65 minutes,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis told ESPN700 Sports Radio when explaining the unusual format.
RSL lost the contest, 2-1, but the result was hardly the focal point. Kreis had indicated that the focus was on the defensive side of the ball.
Giving up two goals wasn’t what the RSL boss had in mind, and his squad will need to improve over the next three weeks as they prepare for a Feb. 22 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against the Columbus Crew.
“We’ve been very, very focused this entire trip on how we defended, and having walked out [of the match] having given up two goals, we’re not too pleased,” Kreis said. “But at least they weren’t breakdowns in play, and breakdowns in what we’ve been coaching now for eight days.”
[inline_node:327544]On the bright side, newly acquired attacker Arturo Alvarez netted his first goal in an RSL kit less than a week after joining the squad in training camp. His tally came off of an assist by midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who also assisted young forward Paulo Junior twice in an intra-squad matchup last week.
“[Alvarez] is a guy that’s trying to figure it out,” Kreis said. “I do think that, truth be told, I think we do things a little bit differently than in most places, and I think that we have some different defending principles and different defending ideas than most teams. I think he’s still trying to get his feet under him a little bit as to what’s expected on that side of the ball."
Kreis also explained how he sees Alvarez fitting into the RSL squad.
“I would honestly say that there are still some questions to be answered there,” Kreis said. “He played forward in the first half, and then in the second half he dropped into the midfield, and I thought he looked a little bit more natural there for us, and that’s where he scored the goal from.”
Four players sat out of the action, including Alvaro Saborio and Chris Schuler, both of whom had just returned to training on Monday after having offseason surgeries. In addition, rookie Jarad vanSchaik and reserve goalkeeper Kyle Reynish sat out with injuries sustained in earlier training sessions.
Rookie supplemental draft picks Drew Cost and Nick Love both saw action in the match, as did trialists Jamie Cunningham and John Gilkerson.
One other RSL newbie who saw his first action with the team is assistant coach C.J. Brown.
“He’s doing very, very well,” Kreis said. “He’s transitioning quite well. He already has a pretty firm understanding of what we expect of our players on the defensive side of the ball.”
The team has two additional scrimmages currently scheduled against MLS squads, both coming during their second trip to the Phoenix area at the Reach 11 Complex. The first is set for Feb. 8 against the Seattle Sounders, and the second is against defending champs the Colorado Rapids on Feb. 14.
Shortly after the match, the team headed to the airport for a return flight back to Salt Lake City, where they will train for the next few days before returning to Phoenix. After enduring a grueling schedule on their first season trip, which included two-a-day practice sessions, the team will have a couple of days off before they resume training on Friday.
“We were really, really pleased with how the guys came in physically this year, and we’ve had a really good week training down here,” Kreis said. “Then you have this result down here, and so we’re looking in the mirror just a touch.”