SANDY, Utah - There is no team in Major League Soccer that’s had their first choice players together longer than Real Salt Lake. However, the team began this year with questions surrounding the depth on the squad as the team conscientiously turned over the bottom half of the roster. Although the resulting questions have begun to receive answers, the squad has been careful about how that depth has been tested to this point.
“When you put too many new guys out there it doesn’t work,” explained RSL Coach Jason Kreis after a recent training session. He explained that unlike last season where the squad once fielded a lineup nearly devoid of regular starters, that’s not likely to happen this year. “[We] recognize that team that we put out there had been with us a couple of years. So that situation now would yield nine new players that this is their very first year with Real Salt Lake. We recognize that’s not going to work for anybody.”
Despite that gentle approach, the team has deployed a lot of depth early in this season. They’ve seen 16 players play more than 300 minutes to this point, and have fielded 20 players in total over their 13 games thus far.
“I think we have one-third answers,” explained Kreis, of the questions surrounding his squad’s depth. “I think the question marks about guys like Jonny Steele and Sebastian Velasquez and Paulo Araujo and Yordany Alvarez – those questions have been partially answered, but they are one-third complete. It requires performances throughout a season to be real firm about how firm your depth is. When they’ve been called upon, they’ve all done a very nice job.”
So far, reserve players have played a big role for the squad. Steele has a late game winner and equalizer to his credit. Emiliano Bonfigli also has a second half equalizer in his scorecard. Center back Chris Schuler has performed admirably both at his natural position, and in an emergency stint against Seattle at left fullback. Backup goalkeeper Kyle Reynish completed a shutout against Chicago FC, and youngsters Velasquez and Luis Gil have filled in admirably for absences in the midfield.
The team is bound to employ more of that depth this week, as both Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in camp with the US Men’s team, and Chris Wingert (hamstring) and Javier Morales (quadricep) are both on the road to recovery from recent injuries. The status of the latter two is uncertain for Saturday.
And while those situations aren’t ideal for the club as they get set to take on FC Dallas this weekend, those absences would allow Real Salt Lake to stay consistent with their game plan for testing depth.
“We want to try to rotate the team in a way that we keep a strong spine or core group of players,” said Kreis. He reiterated his pleasure with the performance to this point, while wishing for more from the squad’s understudies. “We will certainly hope for the same throughout the rest of the season.”