Just days into the preseason and less than a month before his club’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup against the Columbus Crew, head coach Jason Kreis already likes what he sees from Real Salt Lake.
“From the looks of it, our guys are fitter than they’ve ever been on day one of preseason,” Kreis said after the team opened training late last week with an indoor fitness session in Salt Lake City. “And that’s huge for us, because again – four weeks and three days from today is the first match.
“Credit to the guys, as always – these guys are not afraid of hard work,” Kreis continued. “These guys were put to the task again this offseason with workouts that were individually tailored workouts by [team strength and conditioning coach] Dan Barlow, and it looks like they followed suit.”
The team starts out preseason training with three injuries. Defender Raushawn McKenzie has an ankle sprain that he picked up during the offseason, but it appears to be minor and the club is hoping that he’ll join them in training this week.
GALLERIES: Check out pictures from RSL's preseason camp
Defender Chris Schuler is still recovering from offseason surgery following a broken right foot that he sustained last season. According to Kreis, Schuler won’t likely participate in training until their second trip to Arizona.
Alvaro Saborio is also recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee. Kreis indicated that the club is hopeful to have him in training in a week. The team is optimistic that he’ll be fit and ready to go prior to their CCL match against the Crew.
Johnson to play for Canada
Kreis confirmed that Canadian midfielder Will Johnson will indeed be granted the opportunity to play in an international friendly against Greece on Feb. 9, and of course, in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
“We have kind of made it our club philosophy that we don’t want to take opportunities like this away from our players,” Kreis said. “This is a big year for Will Johnson with Canada, with the Gold Cup this summer, and so he’s expressed a desire to go to that game [against Greece], and we’ve decided that we’re going to let him.”
Paulo Junior looks for big year
Lost amid the resigning of Johnson and the outright acquisition of Saborío was the loan extension of Paulo Junior this offseason. In a carefully choreographed move, the Brazilian signed a four-year deal with Miami FC, who agreed to a one-year loan extension with Real Salt Lake. The deal has a buyout provision which will allow RSL to pursue him through the 2014 season.
[inline_node:327058]“It’s the first time I signed four years with any club, and I’m glad that I did because I love [Salt Lake City] and the team,” Paulo Jr. told MLSsoccer.com, through a translator.
The young striker looks forward to being with the team from the start of the year this season. He also believes that the departure of Robbie Findley will open up an opportunity for all of the forwards on the team,
“With one fewer striker, I have more opportunity to show my skills and talent,” he said. “[Findley] was good competition because he played with the national team.”
While roster spots are scarce, the team will have their four draft picks in camp – Jarad vanScheik (MF, Portland), Jeff Attinella (GK, South Florida), Drew Cost (MF, Penn State) and Nick Love (F, Gonzaga).
Around eight players from the RSL-Arizona youth academy will also join in the mix.
Another player invited to train with the squad is defender John Gilkerson, who has played the last two seasons with the D2 Carolina Railhawks.
Arturo Alvarez is expected to join the team this week after his recent play with El Salvador in the Copa Centroamericana, and veteran Nick Rimando will be meeting up with his teammates after starting in net for the US national team’s draw against Chile last Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.