SANDY, Utah – Rich Balchan hasn’t had many chances with Real Salt Lake since joining the club in the 2013 preseason, so it was natural that he wanted to take full advantage when he found himself penciled into the starting lineup at Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
With regular outside backs Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran sidelined by injuries, Balchan was inserted into the XI at right back opposite Abdoulie Mansally. His primary assignment? Slowing down back-to-back MLS Best XI selection and U.S. Men’s National Team starter Graham Zusi.
Though he had never before started for RSL and his last MLS start prior to Saturday came over two-and-a-half years ago, Balchan turned in a very solid performance on Saturday, limiting Zusi and playing a big role in helping the RSL to a shutout in the 0-0 draw at Sporting Park.
“The opportunity definitely presented itself and I thought I showed pretty well,” Balchan told media after the match. “We worked hard and most importantly got the shutout on the backline. There’s things I definitely want to improve on and continue to improve as the season goes on, but I thought I did well.”
Balchan wasn’t daunted by Sporting’s attack, with his confidence in his 1-v-1 defending – “it’s the best part of my game” – giving him plenty of belief against Zusi, Dom Dwyer and the rest of SKC’s fast-paced offense. He did admit to having to deal with some nerves however, an understandable problem considering his last regular start came on Sept. 10, 2011, before a slew of injuries kept him out for most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
“It means a lot to finally get back on the field,” said Balchan, who made his RSL debut two weeks ago when he came on for an injured Wingert in RSL’s 3-0 win over Toronto. “I’ve been working so hard to overcome a lot of injuries, four surgeries and being out since 2011, so it was definitely very exciting. I had a lot of nerves, a lot of anxiousness before the game in the hotel, so I was just trying to calm the nerves and thought I did a good job managing everything.”
RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar was happy with Balchan’s performance, praising the fourth-year Indiana product following Saturday’s draw.
“Rich has been training fantastic all year long. He really came in fit, taking care of his body. He’s confident and today was a perfect time to get him into a game. He deserves it and when you haven’t played many games and you’re doing well in practice, it’s a great time to get them into the lineup. I’m really happy for Rich.”