RSL 2020 Preview: Midfielders

Real Salt Lake’s engine room is well-stocked with proven workhorses that can set the tone in a match with their defensive prowess, quick-strike counters and playmaking.

With versatile players that can aptly play in multiple roles, Head Coach Freddy Juarez has flexibility in the makeup of his midfield three.

Attacking midfielders

Luis Arriaga - 19 years old, 5’6”, 115 pounds
Arriaga made just two appearances for RSL in his rookie season, but had 19 appearances with the Monarchs and three in the USL Championship Playoffs.  With the Monarchs, he logged four assists, gaining valuable experience in his progression up the RSL ladder.

Damir Kreilach – 30 years old, 6’1”, 174 pounds
In his second season with RSL, Kreilach had six goals and five assists in 32 appearances to give him 18 goals and 13 assists in 65 appearances over two seasons.  He also added a playoff goal to give him four goals and one assist in five playoff matches.  Prior to his arrival in Utah in 2018, he was captain at Union Berlin, where he had 33 goals and 17 assists in 149 matches in the German second division, and Rijeka in Croatia, where he had 19 goals and three assists in 128 matches.  With an ability to thrive in any of the three midfield roles as well as in a striker role, he epitomizes the versatility that makes RSL so dangerous up the middle of the field.

Pablo Ruiz – 21 years old, 5’7”, 145 pounds
Entering his third season with RSL, he played last season on loan with the Monarchs and in Austria’s third division with FC Pinzgau Saalfelden.  In 2018, he made five starts in his 12 appearances with RSL and made an additional appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs.  He also has 11 appearances with the Monarchs and one in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.  While he has primarily played centrally, he can also shift out to the wing, where he saw success in Austria.  Before coming to RSL, he played for CD San Luis in Chile and had two goals in 10 appearances for Argentina’s U-17s.

Albert Rusnák – 25 years old, 5’9”, 161 pounds
In his third season with RSL last year, Rusnák had 10 goals and five assists in 29 appearances to give him 27 goals and 26 assists in 90 MLS regular season matches.  He also has one goal in four playoff appearances.  Internationally, he has five goals and five assists in 24 appearances for Slovakia – 23 of which have come since he came to Real Salt Lake prior to the 2017 season.  Originally a product of Manchester City’s Youth Academy, he played with Manchester City, Oldham Athletic and Birmingham City in England and SC Cambuur and FC Groningen in Holland before moving to RSL.

Holding midfielders

Kyle Beckerman – 37 years old, 5’11”, 170 pounds
Major League Soccer’s all-time iron man and RSL’s captain for the last 13 seasons, Beckerman has been a cornerstone for RSL since a 2007 trade from the Colorado Rapids.  In 2019, he played in 25 matches and had five assists – the most assists he’s had in a season since 2013.  In total, the eight-time MLS All-Star has 488 appearances, 456 starts and 40,722 minutes played – all MLS records for field players.  He has 41 goals and 55 assists in his career, while adding five assists in 37 career playoff appearances, leading RSL to the MLS Cup title in 2009 and a second final appearance in 2013.  In addition, he has two goals in 19 CONCACAF Champions League appearances – leading RSL to the final in 2010-11 – and one goal and one assist in 11 U.S. Open Cup matches – leading RSL to the final in 2013.  Internationally, he has one goal in 58 caps with the U.S. National Team and was a key contributor in its run to the 2014 World Cup Round of 16.

Nick Besler – 26 years old, 6’1”, 165 pounds
Originally signed to the Monarchs in 2017, Besler earned a promotion to Real Salt Lake in the middle of the season and has since made 22 starts in 39 appearances, scoring two goals and adding two assists.  He also played 90 minutes in a playoff match in 2018.  A foot injury kept him off the field for the final 10 matches of the 2019 season.  During the 2017 season, he captained the Monarchs to the USL Regular Season Shield, scoring three goals with one assist in 30 matches in the process.  A 2013 College Cup champion at Notre Dame, Besler was originally drafted fifth overall by the Portland Timbers in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and played 49 matches over two seasons with Portland Timbers 2 before making the move to Utah.

Everton Luiz – 31 years old, 5’8”, 154 pounds
Luiz came to RSL on loan from SPAL in Italy in 2019 before the move was made permanent over the offseason.  In his first MLS season, he had two assists in 27 appearances, 24 of them as a starter.  He also started in both playoff matches for RSL.  Since making his professional debut in 2008, he has played with 13 clubs in seven countries, winning titles with Club de Regatas in Brazil (Campeonato Alagoano, 2012 and 2013) and Partizan in Serbia (Serbian Superliga, 2016-17; Serbian Cup, 2015-16, 2016-17).

Luke Mulholland – 31 years old, 5’9”, 165 pounds
Originally signed by RSL prior to the 2017 season, Mulholland had 16 goals and 16 assists in 120 matches over his first four seasons.  Though limited by injury to just three appearances in the last two seasons, he did make two starts in the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2018 and helped the Monarchs win the USL Championship title in 2019.  During the regular season, he had one goal and one assist in eight matches for the Monarchs before starting in all four playoff matches on the way to the title.  Prior to his arrival with RSL, he won back-to-back NASL titles with Minnesota in 2011 – when he earned Soccer Bowl MVP honors - and Tampa in 2012.  He was the USL-Pro Rookie of the Year in 2011, also earning Best XI honors, adding Best XI nods in the NASL in 2012 and 2013.

Justin Portillo – 27 years old, 5’6”, 134 pounds
Entering his second season with Real Salt Lake, Portillo made two starts in four MLS appearances last season.  A standout player in the USL Championship throughout his career, he had 17 goals and eight assists in 92 matches over four seasons with the Charleston Battery before signing with the Monarchs in 2018.  Last season he had two goals and two assists in 16 matches for the Monarchs, bringing his totals to four goals and nine assists in 48 matches over two seasons.  He started in all USL Championship playoff matches last year to help the Monarchs win the USL Championship title.

Real Salt Lake General Manager Elliot Fall on the midfielders:
“The midfield group might be our deepest group.  That's another spot where we have some very quality leaders and veterans, led by Kyle Beckerman, Damir Kreilach, Everton Luiz and Albert Rusnák.  Those are guys that are household names for RSL fans and the staples of our lineup.  And then you've got some young pieces that also can step in and do a really good job.”