With Real Salt Lake officially kicking off its 2019 preseason on Monday at Zions Bank Real Academy, several storylines and questions loom ahead of the club’s 15th season in Major League Soccer.
This year, RSL will hold camp in four different locations beginning with one day at the club’s Zions Bank Real Academy training facility in Herriman, Utah, on Monday, January 21. That will be followed by a stint in Los Angeles, California followed by week-long return to the Zions Bank Real Academy. As previously announced, RSL will take part in the Pacific Rim Cup in Honolulu, Hawaii before a two-week training stint in Tucson, Arizona where it will play four matches in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup.
There is plenty for fans to keep an eye on in 2019, but here are the five storylines I’ll be watching.
After re-upping with RSL through the 2021 season, Rusnák looks poised to be a key cog as the playmaker in midfield. In 2018, was second on the team in goals with 10 and fourth with seven assists. In 2017, he earned club Golden Boot and MVP honors after posting seven goals and 14 assists – the second-highest assist total in club history.
Rusnák has earned himself a regular spot on the Slovakian National Team where he has 17 caps and four goals for his country. Rusnák has earned 16 caps for Slovakia since joining RSL prior to the 2017 season. The focused, charismatic 24-years-old looks to be well on his way to becoming one of the brightest stars in MLS and one that fans may very well flock to see in 2019.
Awe-Inspiring Academy Products
Built as a club that produce its own talent for years to come, RSL boasts some of the most influential Academy products in Major League Soccer. In 2018, RSL Academy products played a league-high 10,826 minutes as the young players saw significant minutes throughout the entire season.
This offseason RSL inked six more Academy products as it brought back Donny Toia and signed Julian Vazquez, David Ochoa, Luis Arriaga, Erik Holt and Tate Schmitt. RSL roster carries with it 12 Academy products as the 2019 season begins, paving the way for another big season for RSL Academy products who could very well see significant minutes.
The 2019 RSL squad carries several new faces as the club welcomes seven players to the squad as the preseason commences. Six of the seven players are RSL Academy products who signed during the offseason with Luis Arriaga, Erik Holt, David Ochoa, Tate Schmitt and Julian Vazquez all beginning their professional careers. Defender Donny Toia re-arrives at RSL as a Homegrown after spending last season with Orlando City SC. The Academy products will surely look to continue the long-standing trend of young RSL men who contribute regularly on the field. MF Everton Luiz arrives in Utah on loan from S.P.A.L. in the Italian Serie A, rounding out the new arrivals for RSL.
RSL will only see three home matches within its first nine to start 2019. Rio Tinto Stadium has played a pivotal role in dictating RSL’s success and a year ago the club went 11-2-4 in Sandy for the most home wins in the Western Conference. Salt Lake will be put to the test early with several key matches away from the RioT coming in its first 10 matches as it visits Audi Field in the nation’s capital for the first time on March 16 before a visit to expansion side FC Cincinnati on April 19.
In December, RSL welcomed veteran defender Tony Beltran back to the side as he returns for his 12th season with the club. Drafted in 2008, Beltran has spent his entire professional career in Salt Lake and will likely challenge for minutes at the outside back position upon his return in 2019.
RSL also welcomed back Luke Mulholland in January who has been a familiar fixture in the midfield since 2014. In the dense RSL midfield, his presence should again create healthy competition and provide Petke with options during the long summer months where points are at a premium.