Real Salt Lake has added two veteran players from outside of Major League Soccer this offseason – holding midfielder Everton Luiz and forward Sam Johnson. With their additions and last season’s late acquisition of center back Nedum Onuoha, General Manager Craig Waibel has focused on strengthening the spine of the team while building around a young core of attacking players.
In Luiz, RSL brought in tough-tackling option in the middle of the field to strengthen the depth of the squad while also providing Head Coach Mike Petke with a variety of options that can allow for different tactical variations throughout the season.
The 30-year-old Brazilian arrived in Utah last week and his quality has already been evident in one week of training as Real Salt Lake has journeyed through training camp ahead of the 2019 season opener on March 2 against the Houston Dynamo. And while his workmanlike approach has been a welcome addition to RSL’s training sessions thus far, it has come as no surprise to Petke and his coaching staff.
“We’ve done research on Everton. He’s somebody who has a lot of experience and he’s somebody that is very specific in what he does, which is basically sit and destroy things and play simple. When I say destroy things, I mean destroy plays – break them up,” Petke said last week. “He also has the ability for us at times to get a little bit more into the attack. He’s very confident with the ball and he seems like a consummate professional.”
That last element has been crucial in all of RSL’s transactions this offseason as Petke looks to build a culture of competition during the week and winning on matchday.
Throughout the winter, Waibel has talked about bringing in players that fit into the locker room off the field, but also provide something on the field that can be reflective of the fanbase at Rio Tinto Stadium – players that take pride in wearing the badge that the fans can be proud of for their quality and effort.
With 10 years of experience in countries like Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, Serbia and Italy, Luiz is just the type of player that fits that bill. And to hear him tell it, he fits the mold of a player that fans can get behind.
“I’m a fighter. I never give up and I fight to the end,” he said in his native Portuguese through a translator. “Whatever my duty is I will always compete until the end.”
While he has a no-nonsense, determined approach on the field, he has been very calm and collected off it. Some of that may come in the language barrier – as Spanish and Portuguese are different enough that the common language of soccer has had to prevail in most conversations – but his demeanor has been one of professionalism that has been a boost to the environment in and out of training through preseason.
“Off the field I’m very easy going,” Luiz said. “I like to be at home and relax after working hard on the field.”
In 2018, RSL had a slew of young players have breakout performances that helped boost the team into the postseason, ousting LAFC before seeing the season end in the Western Conference Semifinals against top-seeded Sporting Kansas City. As the club looks to elevate its level of play and go further in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the work rate and talent of a player like Luiz are the qualities that Waibel and Petke were looking for to take the next step in its progression.
Those goals run congruent to those of Luiz, who won the Serbian Cup twice and the Serbian SuperLiga in the 2016-17 season and has seen team success at virtually every step in his career.
“I just want us to put in a great effort,” he said. “Making it to the playoffs is the goal and with a great team I think we will be able to make it very far.”
Real Salt Lake is in training camp in Honolulu, Hawaii, with two matches in the Pacific Rim Cup on Friday and Sunday at Aloha Stadium. After opening the season on the road against Houston, RSL returns home to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 9. Tickets are available at RSL.com/tickets.http://www.rsl.com/tickets