In just the fourth match of the season, Real Salt Lake will already test its depth when it faces LAFC on Saturday from Banc of California Stadium (8:30 p.m. MT; KMYU, KSL TV app, ESPN 700).
After opening the season with a 1-1-1 record, RSL saw a few international absences compounded by two red cards in last week’s 5-0 loss to D.C. United. Now faced with a slew of lineup decisions, Head Coach Mike Petke will turn to the team’s bench for solutions to what already shaped up to be a tough matchup against one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
Corey Baird (U.S.), Albert Rusnák (Slovakia), Sam Johnson (Liberia) and Julian Vazquez (Mexico U-18) are unavailable this week while away with their respective national teams. Jefferson Savarino and Marcelo Silva joined the list via red cards versus D.C. United to create a diamond shaped hole in Petke’s previously stable starting 11.
“We’re going to see a lot of debuts this weekend,” said defender Brooks Lennon.
“It’s a good opportunity for a lot of guys,” added defender Aaron Herrera. “We have a lot of depth on this team. Everyone that is going to come in this weekend is ready to go. They all have been waiting for their chance.”
Some changes seem simple. Sebastian Saucedo stepped in for Savarino during RSL’s 1-0 win against Vancouver and looked sharp, connecting well with his teammates in the offensive third.
Nick Besler picked up a few minutes off the bench in RSL’s defensive midfield in each of the last two matches and saw significant time as a center back last season.
Others are a bit tricky. Having come off the bench to play substantial minutes in all three matches this season, Johnson would have been an easy solution to fill Baird’s boots, but the forward is away preparing for Liberia’s African Cup of Nations match.
Signed in January 2019, rookie and RSL Academy product Tate Schmitt is the only other forward to have made the travel squad for RSL so far this season.
Real Salt Lake’s vocal defensive leader, Nedum Onuoha views the new additions to the starting 11 as a possible edge.
“You've got 11 people on the field, who are desperate to be there,” said Onuoha. “For as much as it may not be the top 11 that would have played last week, you've got people that have been working really hard to get the opportunity. When they have these opportunities, they're just one big performance away from being on the front line.”
But the questions from the media all week have focused on if these younger players will be able to gel on the field during a crucial match
“As much as those people haven't played in the first three games, we've basically been with each other, every day for the last two months,” said Onuoha. “It's not as tricky as people think. Whoever comes onto the field, we all know how each person plays. We all know what he can bring to the side.”
“The chemistry in the entire group is strong,” added Lennon. “No matter who is playing and who is not, it doesn’t change at all.”