On Saturday, Real Salt Lake will welcome FC Dallas to Rio Tinto Stadium in a pivotal Western Conference clash and as the regular season end draws nearer, points are at a premium for both sides.
Throughout the abbreviated 2020 season, the Major League Soccer standings have been congested as one match could change the entire landscape of a conference and cycle clubs above or below the playoff line. With such a tight schedule and clubs playing two to three matches in a week span, roster depth and experience is of the utmost importance and often times young players are called upon to make an impact.
Saturday’s match in Sandy will pit two of the league’s leaders in Homegrown signings against one another. With 11 Homegrown players on its active 2020 roster, RSL enters Saturday having these rising young stars playing significant minutes again this season. And despite the abbreviated schedule, RSL Homegrowns have amassed 5,813 minutes, three goals and six assists across 18 regular season matches.
Led in Homegrown minutes played by Aaron Herrera for the second consecutive season, RSL enters the crucial last stretch of the season just outside of the playoff picture. RSL’s crop of Homegrown players have led MLS in minutes played over the last two seasons and again in 2020, bringing its three-year total to date to 28,713 minutes played from 2018-2020.
Herrera who enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, again cemented himself as the club’s starting right back and firmly remains in the conversation as one of the league’s best defenders. RSL’s depth of young talent is echoed through the likes of veteran left back Donny Toia and 2018 MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird have seen significant minutes this season. Additionally, the versatility of Tate Schmitt and hard-nosed defender Erik Holt have proved vital to the club during the stretch of regular season play in home markets with matches stacked tightly within the schedule.
Saturday’s visitors arrive in Utah carrying 11 Homegrown players on its roster and through 17 matches this season have seen 3,257 regular season minutes played to complement a total of four goals and four assists. FC Dallas will be without 2019 MLS All-Star selection Paxton Pomykal on Saturday after the bright young midfielder underwent successful surgery in early-September after suffering a season-ending injury earlier in the year. With Pomykal sidelined for the remainder of the 2020 season, The Hoops have turned to 19-year-old defender Bryan Reynolds who has registered 863 minutes on the pitch and has contributed one assist.
Priding itself on building from within and relying heavily on its Homegrown crop, RSL has seen success through regular season play and beyond having featured in the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. This season expects to be no different and should RSL finish above the playoff line for the third consecutive season, its Homegrowns will be looked upon to help lead the club during a playoff run. But to do so, their focus begins solely against FC Dallas and its fleet of Homegrowns on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.