There was a genuine enthusiasm on the field at Kino Sports Complex when Real Salt Lake forward Devon Sandoval scored his fourth preseason goal of 2015. The smiles on the faces of his teammates and coaches showed sincere pride and the 23-year-old New Mexico native has earned all of the praise that has come his way during training camp.
“Devon put in a seriously hard-working shift. He has a lot to be proud of,” said goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who put in a sturdy shift of his ownin a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City on Wendesday. “He was rewarded with a good goal. But it goes for everyone. When Devon scored, the whole team deserved that. It was good for that group and to get a result like that in a fight like that with a team like Kansas City is a big thing for us.”
Sandoval leads Real Salt Lake with four goals in the preseason, with three of those coming from the penalty spot. His only goal from the run of play came on Wednesday, sending Salt Lake to the Desert Diamond Cup championship match on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.
When he put the goal away against KC, fighting the ball off a defender and chipping the goalkeeper to give RSL a 2-0 lead that they fought hard to ensure would hold up, it encapsulated his preseason. Playing behind an uber-talented line of forwards, Sandoval hasn’t relented in his pursuit of playing time and his efforts aren’t lost on the coaches.
“I think it all starts with Devon’s off-season. He’s really amped up the way he has taken care of his body, his preparation, his strength. You can see, he’s extremely strong right now holding the ball, but then after that he’s doing a lot of good things when he has the ball,” RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar said. “I know Devon’s going to work tirelessly to keep the standard high. But it’s always nice when a forward’s scoring some goals.”
Sandoval is entering his third year with Real Salt Lake, but it’s an important one for him, personally. After a standout first season that saw him contribute three goals in a promising start to his professional career, he struggled to find playing time in his second year in 2014. He played fewer games, had fewer minutes and scored fewer goals.
Yet, he viewed the 2015 season as a year that could see his resurgence.
“This is going to be my third year now. I’ve got a lot of experience and played in some big situations for the club, so I’m just trying to step up and lead by example,” Sandoval said.
In addition to being more assertive on the field and off, Sandoval also knows that there will be plenty of games available for him to play in 2015. In addition to the 34-game regular season calendar, there are also Open Cup and Champions League matches that could provide more playing chances.
“We always want to win and make a run at the Cup and do well. We have Open Cup and Champions League, so that’s a lot of games to be played this year. We’re all really excited,” Sandoval nodded and smiled. “I’m looking forward to this year for sure.”