CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has insisted the club will expect more from youngster Paulo Jr. in 2011, and the Brazilian forward could already be poised to start one of the most important matches of the year.
Kreis told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday that he’s leaning towards starting Paulo Jr. up top with Alvaro Saborio for the team’s crucial CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against the Columbus Crew on Feb. 22 in Ohio.
“[Paulo Jr.] had some nice goals for us in the CONCACAF rounds for us last year and is going to need to step up and be a regular contributor for us,” Kreis said.
The diminutive 22-year-old attacker has impressed the coaching staff this preseason. He started up top with Saborío in RSL’s 2-0 preseason win over Chivas USA on Tuesday and was Salt Lake's most active, dangerous player through 85 minutes before he was replaced by Jean Alexandre.
Injuries may also be pushing Paulo Jr. into the starting lineup quicker than most expected, as well. RSL officials told MLSsoccer.com that regular starter Fabian Espindola is still a week away from full fitness while recovering from a left quad strain, leaving Paulo Jr. as the most logical choice to carry the torch in the first game of the two-leg aggregate goal series.
Kreis, however, hasn't ruled out Arturo Alvarez – who was picked up from the San Jose Earthquakes during the offseason to shore up the club’s attack this year – as a possible starter against Columbus. The veteran is still recovering from an adductor injury suffered during training last week but is due to return to action soon.
Paulo Jr. scored two goals in RSL’s 3-1 win over Cruz Azul in the CCL group-stage finale last October and added another in a 4-1 RSL romp over Toronto FC in September. He appeared in three regular-season games and played 17 minutes in the second game of RSL’s Western Conference semifinal series against FC Dallas.