Everyone loves matches that don’t really mean anything — at least matches that don’t mean anything on paper.
It’s heresy to suggest that preseason matches don’t mean anything, but at the end of the day, they don’t affect MLS standings, and they don’t really present any glory. They won’t even be played at home, which, well, that’s fair enough — can you imagine playing in Salt Lake City this winter? I certainly can’t.
Even if you’re not into matches without a specific, measurable end-game, there’s still plenty to be gained from watching Real Salt Lake’s preseason.
Young players impressing
If you’ve ever seen a young player come into a match with 20 minutes left and wondered who they were and why they were there, watching preseason might have shed some light. You’ll see some veterans, sure — but they’ll almost always be paired with younger players who are just getting their feet under them.
Especially because we’re dealing with homegrown players, you’ll want to see them playing earlier rather than later — it’ll give you a sense for what the RSL academy is producing, and trust me, you’ll be impressed by what you see.
So, you want to see how the new guy’s fitting in, do you? There’s no better time than preseason to see that. Once the season starts, the 22-year-old attacking midfielder will be playing competitive matches, and that doesn’t give you a sense of what he can do. It only gives you a sense of what he’s doing in a serious game situation.
More interesting than his decisions in competitive matches is what he’s willing to try when the game isn’t on the line. That’ll give us a better sense of the type of player he wants to be and the style he wants to exemplify.
Of course, it’s also important to afford Rusnak, like all newcomers, some patience once the season starts. The pace and style of the game will be new to him, and while I’m betting he’ll adapt just fine, there’s still a process to undergo there.
If we’re being totally honest about 2016, the second half was marred by the fact that Real Salt Lake simply couldn’t come together properly as a team. Chemistry was shockingly low for a team that had so many veterans who had been together for so long. When in the last five years can you remember players legitimately arguing over penalties?
What we’ll need to see in 2017 is a team that’s come together. There are new pieces, but there are also old pieces that have come back — how are they fitting in? This will be one of the things that really defines the coming season.