SANDY, Utah — Right from the beginning of Real Salt Lake’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids Saturday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, holding midfielder Yordany Álvarez (above left) looked like a different player.
Álvarez, who was brought in last season to back up Kyle Beckerman, got the call while Beckerman was serving a one-game suspension for a red card he'd picked up last weekend against San Jose. The Cuban midfielder had a pair of MLS starts earlier in the year — the first a 3-2 win over Dallas in May, and the second in RSL’s 2-0 loss to Columbus July 14 — and, while he wasn’t terrible in either game, he also didn’t stand out.
Things changed against the Rapids as Álvarez put in a calm, collected 90-minute performance.
“I’d like to count how many balls he won in the first 30 minutes because I was sitting there and he literally, tackle, tackle, tackle; break up this play, break up that play," said midfielder Ned Grabavoy. "I thought he was aggressive in there, and I really thought he brought the bite that Kyle Beckerman brings game in and game out. I thought he did great.”
Álvarez spent almost as much time on the ground in the opening minutes of the game as he did on his feet. He was everywhere in not allowing the Rapids to get any type of rhythm to their attack.
“It is my job to be in the middle and see where they are coming and go and stop them,” said Álvarez. “It is my job to make those tackles.”
Besides stopping the Colorado offense, he was also significantly better at linking the defense with the offense.
“He won the lion’s share of 50-50s,” said defender Nat Borchers. “He was very good with distribution and he stuck in a lot of tackles. I was very satisfied with how he played. He even got forward a few times and created some chances.”
Álvarez’s full contributions may not show up on the stat sheet, where he had two shots, two fouls committed and a foul suffered. But they are there for the most important stat: the 2-0 score line.
“I feel more confident, more confident with the ball, and I thought I played good,” Álvarez said. “I think I played my best game [with RSL].”
With Beckerman eligible to play this Friday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Álvarez will almost certainly return to the bench. But it is comforting for the team to know the Cuban is ready and able to fill in when called upon.
“I thought he was very solid, won some tackles for us,” said midfielder Will Johnson. “It’s great when he can step in for Kyle to do a great job like that. … He stepped in and made a difference.”