So attending a RSL practice session is always a good time for me, a chance to watch the players and staff work hard to get ready for matches, a chance to take some pictures, and a chance to catch up with staff, players, other media folks and whoever else might show up.
Last year RSL started working on a new practice field, so hopefully if the weather remains mild it could be the last time the team is forced to use the Xango pitch in Lehi.
It was interesting getting a chance to see how the younger players and those new to the team were interacting with the more seasoned guys. As we showed up the players were there and doing some stretching drills to get ready, one thing that was clear was the use of the standees, something that had a much bigger role in practice than I have ever seen before. Perhaps one of the things that Jason picked up during his time in Germany watching other teams practice.
more thoughts after the jump:
The players spent most of the session broken up into groups that rotated around the different drills that were going on. I was able to try to focus most of my attention on a couple of key players (a mix of veterans and rookies) as the groups rotated.
My first focus was on RSL regulars who are recovering from injuries, to see what drills they were able to take part in and how they were able to compete. First up is Javier Morales, who I thought was rushed back to action last year for a number of reasons. Javi took part is the majority of the drills but towards the end he was relegated to do some walking and running as practice wrapped up, the cause was a recent procedure to have some bone spurs removed from his ankle (unrelated to last years injury). It is expected that he will be ready to go 100% for the season opener, and for RSL that is a great thing.
Nat Borchers ended the 2011 season on the shelf, and while he took part in most of the drills it is clear that the RSL staff is bringing him back slowly. I don't expect that he will see much action in the matches in Tucson and he may not see action for RSL until April, according to some of the team staff.
Kyle Beckerman picked up an injury in January as part of the USMNT camp, but he appeared to be 100% on Saturday and looks like he is ready to go.
Will Johnson, wasn't at practice and word is that he will be heading to Germany for sports hernia surgery, and will be out 4-5 weeks, which means he may be missing when RSL kick off their season, but getting the issues dealt with now should help him keep from having to suffer from pain all year long.
Alvaro Saborio, many people simply didn't understand what happened in 2011 when for stretches of the season Sabo seemed to just not care about the matches he was playing in, nothing could be further from the truth. He had surgery heading into the 2011 season, and his strong desire to play in Champions League and to help the team all season long kept him playing when he very often wasn't 100% or even close to it. Another round of surgery this off-season was in store for him, but this time RSL has no matches in February and the pressure is to get him back to healthy so he can perform at his highest level. A move I think is the right thing as it will be a long season.
Paulo Jr. and Cody Arnoux, both of these guys had miserable 2011's due to injury issues and both have a chance to make big things happen in 2012. Both appeared to be physically ready for the season, but both looked a little bit rough on the ball, likely a reaction to so little playing time last year. I have huge expectations for both of these guys to make an impact for RSL this year.
Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, both have had minor issues this preseason, and both were limited towards the end of practice but I think both will be able to see some action in Tucson and ready for the regular season.
So then there were the new guys, I was very impressed with the guys who took part in drills where I was taking pictures, Nico Muniz, Enzo Martinez, Emiliano Bonfigli, and Sebastian Velasquez all looked to be adjusting to working with the first team guys during drills and impressed me.
If you want to check out some more pictures from Saturday's practice, you can check out my google+ page.
On the roster front there was a bit of breaking news today and a bit of a surprise. Sebastian Velasquez (@TiaN_Futbol) tweeted that he had been offered and accepted a contract with Real Salt Lake, the surprise came in the fact that despite earlier reports Sebastian actually won't need an international slot as he is in fact a US Citizen. If my math is right that is 21 players currently under contract with RSL, with two weeks before teams must submit their rosters to MLS to be roster and salary cap compliant(March 1st). The MLS date to sign players actually remains open until April 16th, and I expect that RSL will be making a number of moves before and after that March 1st date.
I think we will know a lot more as the next week unwinds as the team continues to practice and then participate in the Tucson FC Desert Diamond Cup, I will provide more details about the tournament and how you can watch the matches online on Tuesday.
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