SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake training sessions have had an unusual look to them this week.
With the exception of the Justen Glad, the full roster was there. And that hasn't happened since several weeks before the regular season began almost two months ago. Between offseason surgeries and injuries, the Claret-and-Cobalt have yet to put the same starting lineup on the field in any two of their games this season, let alone two consecutive matches.
RSL Coach Jeff Cassar told reporters it “feels great” to have everyone but 17-year-old Glad (who is in Arizona finishing his junior year of high school) on the field in some capacity.
“When you have good numbers, you can do some different things,” said the coach, who was down to running seven-on-seven drills at times because of all the injuries.
“And now we can get back to having a full arsenal — whether it's having to go defensive to keep the lead or to put attacking players on to come from behind,” Cassar said.
Not all of RSL's players are ready to play on Saturday in Chicago, however. Forward Robbie Findley is “close” to returning from offseason knee surgery, and defender Rich Balchan continues to work his way back from an adductor injury, but he's expected to be back at full strength next week.
Midfielder Cole Grossman worked out with the team this week, but he's not expected to be fully prepared to practice and play until Tuesday.
RSL's improved injury situation couldn't come at a better time; the team is expected to lose three starters to the World Cup after the May 11 game in Houston. Forward Alvaro Saborio is expected to be called up by Costa Rica; goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Kyle Beckerman are expected to be call up by the U.S. Men's National Team.
And players like Grossman will be called on to contribute; he's tentatively slated to fill in for Beckerman.
“Without a doubt, he's somebody we're going to definitely lean on,” Cassar said. “And he's going to have to be operating at 100 percent because he's got some big shoes to fill.”
RSL has already had plenty of players step in for injured teammates and remains unbeaten (3-0-5) in MLS player.
“Every player on this roster can contribute,” defender Tony Beltran told MLSsoccer.com. “I'm sure there are teams in this league that are eying our players and would love to start them on their team. Of course, (Beckerman, Rimando and Saborio) are incredible. They can make a difference in the game.
“But losing players for the World Cup, it'll be an opportunity for other players to step forward and show their worth.”
First up, however, is a trip to winless Chicago (0-1-6) on Saturday.
“I know they've had a lot of ties,” RSL defender Chris Schuler told MLSsoccer.com. “I mean, we've had a lot of ties as well. But any time your back is against the wall, that means you're fighting. It's going to be tough.”
Cassar said the Fire are better than their record indicates.
“They just haven't been putting the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “I mean, they've missed a few PKs that could have gotten them results.”
“It's a team we have to respect,” Cassar said.