In soccer, a forward is only as good as the players beside them. Goals cannot be scored without someone to provide service, to draw defenders away, or even to just move the ball up field. And the chemistry between the attacking players takes time to build, months of getting to know one another and countless training sessions going through run after run.
Fortunately for Real Salt Lake fans, the relationship between newly-signed striker Bobby Wood and midfielder Damir Kreilach is tried and true with the numbers to back it up. Despite only playing one year together, the attacking duo broke and set records for Union Berlin that have not since been touched.
Through the regular season Kreilach and Wood together scored 29 goals, more than half of the team’s combined total (56) for the year and individually the year marked arguably the greatest rate of production during either of their careers.
“Pretty quickly we found each other on the field, that season Bobby scored 17 goals and I, myself, scored 12 goals, and we had a very, very good season together,” Kreilach said.
Wood netted 17 goals, an accomplishment no Union Berlin player had achieved in the decade previous, nor one that has been eclipsed in the years following. That year he set the record for most goals scored by an American in a single season in either of Germany’s top leagues.
His offensive counterpart scored 12 goals, a feat he himself has only replicated once, occurring while in his first season with Real Salt Lake. In 2018 the Croatian measured his previous success with 12 goals and then sweetened the achievement by scoring three more goals in the Major League Soccer postseason, including his famous karate kick against Los Angeles FC, a move that has become synonymous with the midfielder.
Following the end of the 2. Bundesliga season in 2016, a then 28-year-old Kreilach and 22-year-old Wood began down different tracks with no way of knowing where the trajectory of their respective careers would take them.
With two years remaining on his contract with 1. FC Union Berlin, a newly-married Kreilach was preparing to welcome his first daughter, continuing the life he had built throughout his first three years with the club.
Conversely, a young Wood was knee-deep in FIFA World Cup qualification with the United States National Team, becoming a recognizable household name. Thus leading to the American’s decision to move to Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga, hoping to better improve his chances with his country and provide him with a shot to play in the top flight in Germany.
And after just 11 months together, the two saw their paths diverge.
“When I first got my offer to come to RSL I talked to Bobby about Major League Soccer, he was in with the National Team and he knew more than I did so he gave me advice,” Kreilach said. “Then we switched the roles, he asked me how Salt Lake was and I told him he was going to love it.”
Now, four years later, Kreilach and Wood will once again share the pitch together.
But this time, life and circumstances have changed.
Krielach has since grown his family with the addition of another daughter, while Woods and a wife of his own are anticipating the arrival of his second daughter. When the two last played together their lives could not be more different. But when Wood lands in Salt Lake he’ll find a long-time friend who he is very much in tandem with.
“We talked a bunch before anything was really deep in conversations, he gave me a lot of good information on his family and how much he liked the team, the coaches and the staff, which helped make the decision a lot easier,” Wood said.
It’s because of this that when Wood first received the offer to return to the States and play for Real Salt Lake it was Kreilach whom the Hawaiian first reached out to.
Kreilach and Wood will be first to tell you just how well they play with each other, there is no lack of compliments from either party when discussing the other, and they are itching to be back alongside one another on the field.
But unlike all those years ago the growth and maturity, both on and off the field, has led to the creation of more comprehensive players, ready to take charge and lead. And while reminiscing on the “glory days” brings back fond memories, there is still the glaring reality that their previous time together came and went without a trophy, something neither are willing to sacrifice this time around.
“He is a great guy. He has a great mentality, a winning mentality and that is exactly what we need on our team,” Kreilach said.
Wood echoed the same sentiment, saying "I'm going to come in and work hard, and build a mentality that's just about being a team that works hard, and if we do, I think we can succeed together."