Real Salt Lake will be without Kyle Beckerman tonight, and I think you'd understand if that provoked a little bit of worry from yours truly before the team squares off against Columbus Crew.
Beckerman hasn't quite be an ever-present for the team in 2016, but he's come awfully close — save for a 31st minute red card in that dismal 2-2 draw to Portland Timbers and a subsequent suspension, he's played every minute of every match.
Of course, that match without out him was a 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, so maybe the hyperventilation about his absence is breaking out a bit too soon — but bear with me here. The issue isn't that we're missing our captain, it's that there's no clear-cut solution for his absence.
After all, the arrival of Sunny on the scene has prompted a bit of a rebirth in the Real Salt Lake midfield. He's been a delight to watch, and he's steadied the team at important times. But he's also not a straight replacement for Beckerman; instead, he's looked best when given a strong partner with whom to ply his trade.
Our question today should be about best partner not named Kyle Beckerman.
Option 1: Luke Mulholland
This seems like the least unexpected option, right? Mulholland started 27 of the 29 matches he played last season, and at times, he looked good — and, of course, at other times, he looked suspect and a bit caught out in a tricky midfield to get properly ticking over.
The question we need to be asking, I think, is if Mulholland can play a defensive midfield role? There seems to be a certain hesitation on Jeff Cassar's part to put him there — maybe that's because he's confident in John Stertzer starting in that role, or maybe it's because the Englishman is best utilized in a more box-to-box role.
Regardless, if Mulholland does start, expect Sunny to retreat into a more defensive role to provide some counterbalance in the midfield. That might be the thing that leads to Jeff Cassar calling in somebody else. That somebody?
Option 2: John Stertzer
Stertzer has started in two wins and two losses, and we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't try to look at the midfield as culpable in that particularly awful loss to LA Galaxy. But if we do try to look at that as a failure of a unit, can we see redeeming-enough qualities in Stertzer that he deserves a start?
I'm inclined to say yes — Stertzer, in his fourth year with the club (but I'd argue it's his only his second year that really counts for much), is developing into a high-minded defensive midfielder that can put his best qualities on display in some matches. The big question, though, is if he can do that on a weekly basis. The answer so far? It certainly hasn't been a resounding yes.
Option 3: Danilo Acosta
Here's your dark horse candidate for the day — nobody expects Danilo Acosta to be the one that gets the starting position alongside Sunny on Saturday (I apologize for that sentence), but he could very well find himself thrust into action one of these days.
If Acosta is to be the heir to the Beckerman throne, then at some point, we'll have to find opportunities for him to prove it. Is an away game in Columbus the place to prove that? Probably not.