Real Salt Lake's match tomorrow against Columbus Crew promises exactly one thing — and that's you won't see the first-choice team in action.
After playing 90 minutes against New England Revolution on Wednesday, that select group of players will largely be held in reserve until next Wednesday's match against Tigres in CONCACAF Champions League action.
Instead, you're likely to see a group that's made primarily of reserve players, and that's exciting in a very different way. Missing out on players like Juan Manuel Martinez, Joao Plata, Javier Morales, and Yura Movsisyan is never truly preferable, as they're incredibly exciting to watch, but a chance to understand and evaluate new and growing talent presents its own rewards.
After all — it's not every day you get to see players who haven't yet signed for the club in action, or players who you simply won't get to see more than a few times during the season, and usually for a limited period.
One of the more interesting players to watch will be Max Lachowecki, who comes into the match as a candidate for the backup left back spot. With the trade of Abdoulie Mansally, which was completed yesterday, we know that Craig Waibel must feel more-or-less complete at left back. While we can ascertain that without seeing a match, it really doesn't say anything about how we, as fans, should feel if we aren't to take it all on blind faith.
Another interesting candidate is one we already know quite well: Chris Wingert. As a backup across the back line, he's likely to see a start here, and it's not often that we can bring in a backup of such veteran quality. He's a vocal defender, but from everything we know about Wingert since he arrived in Salt Lake in mid-2007, he's a vocal leader, too. We'll have a chance to watch how he interacts with these younger players, which gives us a greater chance to see what they're capable of.
That sort of stability is something that all teams need, but it's also something that it's hard for all teams to come by. It's one thing to have veteran experience in the starting 11-14 players, and there was certainly plenty of that during 2015. But it's another entirely to have veteran experience outside of that group who isn't an outsider — this is a player that's as 'in' with the core group as you can be, but he's still not a prime candidate for starting minutes when others are healthy.
That's the sort of thing we'll have a chance to watch: What impact does Wingert have on a young Salt Lake side? What about players like John Stertzer, who has been with Real Salt Lake since 2013 and only last year scraped into 30 appearances? We have a chance to see what he can offer, too. And what, further, about players like Devon Sandoval, Jordan Allen, or Phanuel Kavita? There's a long list of players who can benefit from a match like this.
And let's not look past Jerry Akaminko, who I quite boldly predicted would start in the last match — he didn't, and so I'd expect to see him here. What could come of an appearance from him? Is he still in contention for a contract, or have things fell through? Matches like this give an opportunity for us to get answers to these questions without them being made explicit.
These second-string players have a real chance against Columbus Crew, and while that won't pay immediate dividends, we have as fans — as does the coaching staff — to evaluate these players one last time before the season starts. Understanding our depth is key to understanding the team. After all — if we're to blame injuries for part of our struggles last year, and if we've supposed attempted to correct for that, then this sort of match gives us a chance to see if we truly have.
On a side note, one player you certainly won't see is Luke Mulholland, who was reported yesterday to have suffered a quad strain in the last week. His growing influence with the team will be missed. Another player whose influence will be missed is left back Abdoulie Mansally, who was traded yesterday to Houston Dynamo.