LEHI, Uah – There’s been much talk of Real Salt Lake being one of the deepest teams in Major League Soccer. And it appears that depth will be tested early this season.
Before the season even began, RSL lost 2010 Defender of the Year Jamison Olave. The big center back picked up a hamstring injury during a CONCACAF Champions League match against Saprissa last week and had to be subbed out. His status has improved, but it’s not clear yet whether or not he’ll be ready when RSL open at home against the LA Galaxy on Saturday.
Then, in their season opener at San Jose last week, it seemed as though RSL would be down another defender when it was thought Chris Wingert wouldn’t play due to an ankle sprain. Luckily for the Rio Tinto boys, Wingert made his way onto the pitch at left back.
Despite injuries, Real Salt Lake’s back line remains solid. Against the Quakes, Tony Beltran manned the right side and moved from defense to attack quite effortlessly, putting in several quality crosses into the box despite the difficult conditions.
After the Saprissa match, Kreis mentioned that Beltran “was the most confident that I’ve seen him this year,” referring to his charge’s play in practice leading up to that match.
“I’m more comfortable getting into the final third [this year],” Beltran told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “I’ll be looking to push forward and get those crosses in. I know we’ve got guys in the box that can finish them.”
[inline_node:331696]Also stepping up has been Chris Schuler. The center back came on for Olave against Saprissa and played the entire second half and helped RSL to a clean sheet. Against San Jose, Schuler had a couple of shaky moments in the early going, mostly due to the difficult weather, but he rebounded nicely in the second half and again helped his team to a shutout.
Those two performances, along with a couple of solid starts in the last half of the 2010 season, will undoubtedly give the big defender – and his teammates – confidence in his abilities whenever they are required.
“Chris is a big presence,” said his partner in central defense, Nat Borchers. “He’s a lot longer than a lot of strikers give him credit for and it’s tough for them to get around him. He wins his fair share of aerial battles and he communicates, so it’s nice to have a guy like that to rely on if a big guy like Olave is out.”
The fact that Beltran and Schuler are both peaking in form bodes well for the back line. However, RSL will have to deal with the absences from midfielder Arturo Alvarez and Will Johnson, and forward Alvaro Saborio against the Galaxy because of international duty.
Alvarez will be away with El Salvador as La Selecta head to Cuba on March 24 and then host Jamaica on March 27. Johnson has been invited to join team Canada as they head to Turkey for a contest against Belarus. Finally, Saborío will join Costa Rica for the inauguration of their new national-team stadium against China.
To add a little more hardship to their situation, word from practice on Tuesday was that goalkeeper Nick Rimando skipped training in favor of a doctor’s visit to diagnose a possible bone spur issue in his ankle. As of Tuesday night, there was no word on the results.