RSL 2020 Preview: Defenders

Throughout the week, we will preview RSL's 2020 roster, highlighting each position group.  Today, we look at the crew that anchored one of the top defenses in MLS in 2019 as they look to improve on that mark in 2020.

In 2019, Real Salt Lake had the third-best defense in MLS, allowing 41 goals in 34 matches.

With a stingy back line that balanced youth with veteran leadership, RSL posted the best defense in the league over the final 19 matches after the Gold Cup break – allowing just 14 goals in that span while posting nine shutouts.

In 2020, RSL has added depth with newcomers Ashtone Morgan and Alvin Jones, both of whom bring defensive stability while also contributing to the offensive width when they get forward.

Left backs

Ashtone Morgan – 29 years old, 5’11”, 165 pounds
After nine seasons with his hometown Toronto FC, Morgan moved to Real Salt Lake this season.  While with Toronto, Morgan logged 127 regular season appearances while winning MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield in 2017 and reaching the MLS Cup final in 2016 and 2019.  He also won five Canadian Championships and has 22 appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League and 18 caps for the Canadian National Team. 

Donny Toia – 27 years old, 5’8”, 155 pounds
In 2019, Toia returned to Real Salt Lake – where he developed in the RSL Academy and was the club’s first Homegrown signing in 2011.  He was a stalwart at left back in his first season back with the club, notching one goal and one assist in 24 matches, adding two more starts in the MLS Cup Playoffs.  In an MLS career that has seen him play for Chivas USA, the Montreal Impact and Orlando City SC along with his time at RSL, he has totaled two goals and seven assists in 133 matches.  In 2015, he started for the Montreal Impact in their run to the CONCACAF Champions League final, adding international experience to his resume.

Right backs

Aaron Herrera – 22 years old, 5’11”, 155 pounds
In his second MLS season in 2019, Herrera was a breakthrough performer at right back.  After starting 14 matches at left back in his rookie season in 2018, he shifted over to his more natural position at right back last year and started in 31 of his 32 appearances, tallying four assists.  The increased playing time for the RSL Academy product saw increased exposure as well.  Already a 2017 U-20 World Cup defender, Herrera has been a fixture with the U.S. U-23 National Team in its preparations for the 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament in March.

Alvin Jones – 25 years old, 6’0”, 172 pounds
Jones enters his first MLS season after playing eight seasons with W Connection in his native Trinidad and Tobago and the 2018 season with the OKC Energy in the USL Championship.  While with W Connection, he had one goal in six appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League, bringing international experience despite his relative youth.  In addition, he has one goal in 23 caps since making his debut with Trinidad and Tobago in 2014, that goal of course being the strike that knocked the U.S. National Team out of 2018 FIFA World Cup contention during qualifying in 2017.

Center backs

Justen Glad – 22 years old, 6’1”, 160 pounds
Now entering his seventh MLS season, Glad has 109 appearances before reaching his 23rd birthday.  Over the last four seasons, he has been a staple in the starting XI, including a stretch of 50 consecutive starts between 2017 and 2018.  He also has four appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs, two of them as a starter.  Already a key player for the U.S. at the U-20, U-18 and U-17 levels, he is expected to be an important piece for the U-23 National Team in its quest to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

Erik Holt – 23 years old, 6’1”, 185 pounds
In his rookie season last year, Holt made five starts for Real Salt Lake, seeing the bulk of his playing time with the Real Monarchs in the USL Championship.  There he made 17 regular season appearances before exploding for three goals in four playoff matches to help the Monarchs to the ULS Championship title.  Another product of the RSL Academy, Holt is a strong, physical presence on the back line.

Nedum Onuoha – 33 years old, 6’0”, 210 pounds
A veteran of 188 appearances in the Premier League and 145 matches in the Championship in England, Onuoha brings a high level of soccer experience to the RSL locker room.  A product of Manchester City’s Academy, he has been influential on the young players on RSL’s roster while also being a key contributor on the field.  He made 27 appearances in 2019, his first full season in MLS and has five playoff appearances, helping RSL to series wins in 2018 and 2019 – one of just two teams to achieve that feat.

Marcelo Silva – 30 years old, 6’2”, 181 pounds
Now entering his fourth season with Real Salt Lake, Silva has 46 MLS appearances to his credit and scored two goals for RSL last year.  Prior to arriving at RSL in 2017, he spent most of his professional career in Spain, where he notched 23 appearances with Almeria in La Liga and 110 in the second division with Almeria, Las Palmas, Valladolid and Zaragoza.  A native of Uruguay, he helped his country reach the Round of 16 at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Real Salt Lake General Manager Elliot Fall on the defenders:
“The mentality was to keep the pieces that that contributed significantly to that season last year and add some pieces around it that can provide depth and competition.  We are potentially five deep at center back if you want to include Nick Besler in that conversation.  At right back we have maybe the best right back in the league in Aaron Herrera, and then another young international caliber right back and Alvin Jones.  At left back we've got Donny Toia who is an MLS veteran, Ashtone Morgan who's an MLS veteran that has played at a very high level is also an international player, and then Tate Schmitt who's really come on and opened everybody's eyes and done a fantastic job in that role throughout last season and into the, into this preseason.  You always want guys who have experience, but at the same time you want guys who are going to continue to grow and develop into better and better players. Justen Glad is 22 years old and has played over 100 MLS games and we've got Aaron Herrera who's 22 years old and locked down a starting job on the backline in two seasons.  We really feel good about both the youth potential and experience of that group and then you've got your leaders on those lines like Nedum, Marcelo and Donny - guys who've been there, done that and can lead the young guys.”