- 17-year-old Fidel Barajas puts in MOTM performance against European Competition
- Brayan Vera, Justen Glad, Andrew Brody and Emeka Eneli earn praise from Manager Pablo Mastroeni as standout performers of the preseason so far
- Glimpses of tactical shifts shown in Real Salt Lake’s setup in and out of possession
Far away from our snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and across the Atlantic Ocean, Fidel Barajas made his Real Salt Lake debut 5,191 miles away from America First Field in Lagos, Portugal on Saturday.
Barajas and RSL narrowly lost to Danish Superliga side Brøndby 2-1 in the Club’s first preseason friendly, but the teenager showed flashes of why the Claret-and-Cobalt prioritized him in this transfer window ahead of the 2024 MLS season.
The teenager who’s spoken previously of his lofty European ambitions made his first start for the Utah side on the continent he wishes to one day play on, along with fellow RSL starlet Diego Luna in attacking midfield.
However, it was lone striker Anderson Julio - a veteran Ecuadoran international - who opened the scoring for RSL in the 16th minute, picking the pocket of a Danish defender at midfield and brilliantly chipping the Brøndby keeper to give RSL the early lead. The 11-time Denmark Champions later battled back, scoring twice before halftime. Both teams would create chances in the second 45, however after halftime, the score would remain 2-1, and Brøndby left the first round of the Atlantic Cup as victors.
Positively though, Barajas’ performance on his debut will leave Real Salt Lake fans excited and wanting more. The young playmaker created numerous chances, and proved to be more than a handful for the Danish side who are already halfway through their season.
“I felt like I had a good game, I created chances which is my job as a player,” Barajas said. “I felt like my teammates trusted me by playing balls to me inbetween the lines as a 10, and they trusted me to make goal scoring opportunities which felt good.”
That trust will only continue to build as Pablo Mastroeni’s young preseason roster continues to grow, bond and develop. Postgame, Mastroeni pointed to some of his veteran backline such as Justen Glad, Brayan Vera and Andrew Brody along with second-year swiss army knife Emeka Eneli as the standouts of the preseason so far, with the young guns pushing them every step of the way.
The work has already started 5,000+ miles away, but for Barajas, Mastroeni and the rest of the Claret-and-Cobalt, the aim is for it to pay off back home at America First Field.
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The Deep Dive:
Real Salt Lake lined up in a 3-2-4-1 while in attack to start the game with Gavin Beavers in goal, Vera, Glad and Eric Holt in the back three, Brody and Maikel Chang as wingbacks, Eneli and Braian Ojeda as the midfield pivots, Luna and Barajas as attacking midfielders and Julio up top.
The formation shifted slightly in defense, with the back three shifting to a back four, as Brody moved down to a left back role, Holt went wide to right back and Chang pushed up to right wing. Barajas would then move center and Luna wide left, creating a 4-2-3-1 out of possession.
A majority of RSL’s success came during around a 20-minute spell following halftime, when Barajas was able to get on the ball and progress it in transition through positive dribbling and passing. Connecting with Chang down the right, who provided width as Barajas cut inside, the two players created multiple chances for their team. Mastroeni also credits this improved spell of play with narrowing the backline and putting more pressure on the ball defensively. This defensive work caused Brøndby to lose the ball more often, creating more attacking scenarios for RSL.
Barajas' defensive work rate helped lead the RSL’s pressing line from the 10 spot, which also allowed him to get on the ball more as he was in the right position during key transition moments to spearhead a Claret-and-Cobalt counterattack.
The youngster not only wow’d with his defensive work rate and ball progression, but also in the skill exhibited in one on one scenarios to beat defenders. Barajas’ display of individual skill and work rate against Brøndby should be an encouraging sign to RSL fans as the young player acclimates to his new team, role and league.
As far as the tactics are concerned, even with six starters missing, the group seemed to follow a cohesive gameplan and put a mid-season European team under waves of pressure during their first friendly of the preseason, while defending soundly for a majority of the game.
As themes and storylines continue to emerge in the run-up to the Club’s first league match against Inter Miami on Wednesday, February 21, supporters can look forward to RSL building upon their performance against Brøndby this Tuesday, when it faces Norwegian side Fredrikstad at 12:00 p.m. MT.
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