SANDY, Utah – Accommodating international games is part of soccer all over the world. But no matter how much getting used to it MLS clubs do, the absence of many of the league’s best players from training has a definite and noticeable effect.
Real Salt Lake had five players called to represent their respective countries – although one of them, 18-year-old Luis Gil, returned early from the US Under-20 camp with a sprained MCL. And while the players only missed one MLS game and one US Open Cup game while away, practice has had a different feel without them.
“I think it has had an effect,” RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. “Without those guys here pushing the level of play up a notch, there have been times, I’ve thought, that perhaps we were lacking a bit in our technical skills. I think that sometimes you really need your best players out there training in order to get the very best out of all your players, not just the ones that are away.”
With several starters away, however – Álvaro Saborio ís with the Costa Rican national team, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando with the US and Will Johnson with Canada – it does present more opportunities for younger or newer players to make an impact.
“I think it has been a good chance for me to put my best foot forward and maybe show some of my skills with more of the first-team players,” said forward Cody Arnoux. “You maybe get a few more touches in certain drills and in some game-type situations, but I’m not sure I really approach it any differently than I do any other day because, if you aren’t putting in a full effort every time you step out here, it doesn’t matter if you have a good practice here or there.”
On the other end of the spectrum are grizzled veterans like left back Chris Wingert, who’s seen teammates leave for international duty throughout his career.
“I don’t even think about it,” Wingert offered. “I think as a professional, you just have to worry about working hard yourself and taking care of what you can control. If you are worried about who is out there training with you, you aren’t going to be playing your best.
“We are professionals out here, regardless of whether you are a starter, national team player or on the bench, and you need to take care of business.”
With the first games of World Cup qualifying coming to an end, RSL's internationals will be heading back to their clubs before this weekend’s slate of MLS games. Kreis, for one, is looking forward to their return.
“I know that there is definitely a difference when they aren’t out here,” said Kreis. “I am a firm believer in you need to train like you are going to play, and I know that we are better in training when we have those guys out pushing the competition.”