Deploying a lineup for the first match of the season is a difficult proposition to begin, and doing it in a way that doesn't just reward players for the preceding season is probably more so.
The biggest differentiator outside of those concerns is probably preseason performances — after all, that's when the coach finally gets to see his somewhat revamped squad in action. Having just come off a successful preseason campaign, we'll be taking a look at five players whose chances at minutes tonight improved as a result of their play.
Coming into an established team is difficult for some players, but Demar Phillips hasn't just fit into the squad, but he's become an integral part in very short order. Despite not playing too many minutes after picking a hamstring strain, there isn't really any doubt that he's now first-choice.
A young, talented defender with national team experience — replacing a young, talented defender with a little national team experience. Vasquez came in as somewhat of an unknown, despite having excellent highlights. He's shown already that he's capable of playing well with this team. How he meshes with the first team will be an insight worth gaining, but his preseason showed extremely well.
After a rough 2014 — that season-ending surgery took a little wind out of his sails, no doubt — Allen showed he hadn't lost a step, and he was just as ready to contribute to the first team. Playing both as a full back and as a wide forward, his preseason campaign showed his flexibility and his potential roles within the team.
He's young and slight, but he's also immensely talented and ready to start earning minutes in some of RSL's more comfortable matches. His preseason showed a willingness to defend and an eagerness to attack — as you'd expect — but he also showed good combinations with players around him. When he gets used to the team and the team gets used to him, he could be fantastic.
After some Gil-skepticism over the last year, he's showing that he's not just capable of being a consistent, active first-team player, but he's actuating on it, too. Where he sometimes wasn't the best at staying involved throughout the match, he's starting to do just that. He's looking incredibly confident, ready to contribute in a very meaningful way, and like he's going to start to fulfill his vast potential at the club.
Other players who who have seen their chances boosted: Devon Sandoval, for his goalscoring consistency and good hold-up play, and Fito Ovalle, for showing he's ready for a first-team contract.