SANDY, Utah — First-year Real Salt Lake Coach Jeff Cassar — who has yet to lose a game — is facing his biggest coaching challenge on Saturday when Colorado comes to town.
He'll be missing three starters. And not just any three starters, but rock-solid goalkeeper Nick Rimando, team captain Kyle Beckerman and leading scorer Alvaro Saborio.
Despite the fact that Rimando and Beckerman are off with the USMNT preparing for the World Cup and Saborio is doing the same in Costa Rica, Cassar told reporters, “I think it's going to be business as usual. I completely believe in these guys 100 percent.”
Barring something unexpected, Jeff Attinella will be in goal for Salt Lake; Cole Grossman will take Beckerman's spot in the midfield; and playing up top will be either Devon Sandoval or Olmes Garcia.
“It's an opportunity for some other players to step up and have different roles on the team,” Cassar said. “I'm excited.”
As are the players involved.
Attinella said he knew “this was coming for a while and been preparing for it. And ready to get the game going.”
Sunday will be his third start of the season — he stepped in for two games (both ties) after Rimando was injured in a USMNT friendly against Mexico. But it's been just over a month since he's been in the first-team lineup.
“It's still been a little bit of time since I've gotten to play,” he said. “But I feel good. I feel ready.”
It's long been the plan for Grossman to step in for Beckerman, but getting there has been more difficult than RSL had hoped.
Grossman had shin splints “and we kind of shut him down so he would be ready for this time — so he would be at 100 percent,” Cassar said. “He's looking sharp in practice. He's got a great range of passing, similar to Kyle.”
And the midfielder said he's feeling “pretty close” to 100 percent.
“I feel ready to go,” he told reporters. ““I feel like I've positioned myself pretty well for the next couple of months.”
But he admits that trying to replace Beckerman is no easy task.
“Positionally, he's really good,” said Grossman, adding that has “make sure I'm in the right spots when the ball turns over in transition. And when they have the ball, cutting out lanes and making sure we're not easy to play through.”
“It's definitely intricate, but I'm lucky I have the best in the business to study and learn from.”
Cassar wasn't tipping his hand about who will start at forward alongside Joao Plata — he could go with either the “speed” of Garcia or the “strength” of Sandoval.
If it's Sandoval, the 6-1 forward said he and the 5-2 Plata “work well together. We played last year together a bunch in reserve league and in first team. So it shouldn't be a hard adjustment.”