Carlos Salcedo has had a tough time cracking Real Salt Lake's lineup in 2014 before the last two months, and when you look at his appearances chart, there's not much there to get a sense of.
Why exactly he was behind Aaron Maund in the first few weeks wasn't entirely clear, but those sorts of decisions are made in a coaching mindset — perform well in pre-season matches and chances can emerge. But after playing the first two matches of the season, Maund was left playing occasional spot duty, just like Carlos Salcedo.
But now, with injuries rocking the back line week-in, week-out, Carlos Salcedo has graduated from that spot duty to something more significant. He's still not a guaranteed starter, but he's now found himself replacing Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran and Chris Schuler in the last three matches. He's shown a versatility across the back line you rarely see from a 21-year-old defender, which has played nicely in his stake for increased minutes in this second half of the season.
Moving forward into the remaining weeks of the season, those minutes Salcedo had to fight to earn early on are coming a bit easier. Beltran's absence gave Salcedo 45 minutes at right back, where he looked a little tentative in the attack but resolute in defense. When Borchers was out through red card duty, he stepped in alongside Chris Schuler and was solid against a rocky Colorado Rapids outfit. And when Schuler missed the loss to Vancouver, Salcedo came in and looked excellent, barring the mistake that handed the Whitecaps a vital penalty.
We could look at those sorts as damning to Salcedo's chances, but clearly, they haven't been. It's not because those mistakes have been overlooked — conceding penalties is never a great thing — but because they've been balanced by the fact that he's played only very occasionally until now. Through his relatively limited minutes since joining RSL full-time in 2013, Salcedo's displayed a tremendous ability to adapt and adjust from match-to-match. Rarely has he had a match where he's looked palpably worse than the last in which he played, which is the greatest skill a young player can have.
With Chris Schuler out for at least this weekend, Salcedo seems in-line to make his fourth consecutive start for Real Salt Lake, which would equal his best run in the side in 2013. He's returning early from international duty with the Mexican U-21s on Thursday, which affords him a chance to continue to develop with his nation — two days of training with them are beneficial in the long term for Salcedo, after all, just as regular minutes for your club boost your chances on both faces of the club and country coin.
It's not an easy stretch Real Salt Lake is entering here. It's tremendously bad luck to lose Chris Schuler at this point in the season, with the playoffs coming so quickly, but the opportunity afforded Carlos Salcedo at this vital point of the season is immense.