Real Salt Lake were rooting for the US national team to beat Belgium on Tuesday, but it didn't take long to find the bright side of the 2-1 loss.
RSL captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando will soon be back from Brazil, giving much-need relief to a team that has suffered a series of injuries in addition to the call-ups. How long did it take for RSL's players to start thinking about that?
“Once the whistle blew,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers. “Definitely going to be happy to get those guys back.”
RSL coach Jeff Cassar told reporters much the same.
“It's going to be fantastic, obviously, for the performance on the field,” he said. “But even in the locker room, they bring confidence to other players. Obviously, just bringing back that experience from the World Cup will be huge.”
Beckerman and Rimando left for USMNT camp in mid-May. At the same time, forward Alvaro Saborio left for the Costa Rican national team — and broke a bone in his foot, which will keep him out of the lineup for another two or three months. RSL have not fared well in their absence. After a win over Colorado, Salt Lake have gone winless (0-4-2), including a loss to lower-division Atlanta in US Open Cup play.
That's a tremendous slide consideringn the club's unbeaten (6-0-6) start to the season through 12 games. But midfielder Ned Grabavoy was reluctant to blame the absence of Beckerman and Rimando as the reason for the downturn.
“It's easy to point to that, but that's not the reason why,” he said. “I'm not going to sit here and say having those guys wouldn't help us, because it certainly would. Not just in the games, but in training, in the locker room, and all that stuff. But I don't think you can just point your finger and say that's why we haven't been winning games.”
Two of the three league losses have come after RSL players were red-carded. A variety of mental and physical errors have cost them points, and against Seattle (a 4-0 loss) and Atlanta, the team's performance clearly was sub-par.
Equally clearly, injuries have played a part. Not only were Beckerman, Rimando and Saborio missing from training on Tuesday, but so were forward Robbie Findley, defender Rich Balchan and midfielders Sebastian Velasquez and Javier Morales. Balchan (groin injury) is definitely out for Friday's game against New England. Grabavoy is questionable, still trying to work his way back from a hip flexor.
“When it's one player, it's usually not a big deal,” Grabavoy said. “When you start to miss five, six guys, it becomes more difficult on a team.”
RSL team was so short on players that Cassar took to the field himself on Tuesday, “and that's not a good option,” he said with a laugh.
Still, Cassar said Rimando and Beckerman will “probably not” appear in Friday's game against New England.
“But you never know,” he said. “Kyle can maybe sit on the bench and if we need him, use him. But probably not.”
Defender Chris Wingert didn't wait until after the USA-Belgium game to start thinking about the boost RSL would get from the return of Beckerman and Rimando.
“I was thinking that before the game, in case it happened,” he told reporters. “But I'll tell you what – I'd give it back in a heartbeat if they could be there for another week or two. I wish they had gone through. Not only for the country, but also for Kyle and Nick.”