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2017 Preseason Preview: What to expect from the defense

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What should we expect to see from defenders and goalkeepers this preseason? They’ve got to lock down those spots.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

We’re taking a look over the next two days at what we can expect from Real Salt Lake players during this preseason campaign, and we’re starting all the way at the back.

Goalkeepers

It’s always a little tricky analyzing Real Salt Lake’s goalkeeper group and our expectations, because really, we expect that Nick Rimando will play most of the time, and sometimes, he won’t play. That’s hardly interesting or meaningful, so we should instead change the scope of our questions: What should we be expecting from goalkeepers not named Nick Rimando?

That question is particularly important because I don’t expect Rimando to drop his position right now. He’s probably the one player on the team that isn’t in much danger of being dropped ever, and that’s been the case for years now.

What about Lalo Fernandez, though? He’s been with the club since 2012, and while he’s seen good professional minutes over the last two years with Real Monarchs, he hasn’t played once for Real Salt Lake. Expect him to show exactly why it is the club’s had faith in him for so many years, even when he hasn’t been second-choice. He’ll want to fight for second-choice contention, but it won’t come easy.

Our current second-choice? That’s Matt Van Oekel, who comes in off the back of an NASL Golden Glove-winning season in 2016 for FC Edmonton. Expect him to show that he can be the man around when Nick Rimando’s flown the coop for national team duty.

Center backs

Coming into the 2017 preseason, it’s increasingly clear that we don’t have a first-choice center back tandem. Justen Glad’s pretty much a lock at this point, sure — but will he be partnered with Aaron Maund again, who was pretty consistently a starter, and who looked good doing it? What about Chris Schuler, who came back from a run of injuries and looks like he might finally be fit? Or even David Horst, who has been an MLS starter, even if he hasn’t been a hugely impressive one?

Look for a pairing to start to emerge over the length of preseason, but don’t be surprised if that battle continues for a few weeks into the season. We’ll have to wait and see how this one turns out, though, and maybe we’re left with Glad and Maund in a pairing again, simply because they’re more used to each other and can perform better together in preseason.

Let’s just say that I’m glad I don’t have to make these decisions.

Full backs

We’ve got the opposite issue here: Rather than not knowing who would start in every game, we know pretty much which two full backs will start most games. Demar Phillips is likely to continue on the left, and Tony Beltran is a near-certainty on the right. Despite the renewal of Chris Wingert’s contract, we can be relatively assured that he’s still a backup. We drafted a right back, but if he starts over Beltran, he’d have to be extremely good or extremely not-injured.

Throw Danilo Acosta into the mix, too. There’s every indication that he could start getting what I’d call the Chris Schuler treatment, playing minutes at full back in preparation for a more central position, as the big man did in 2011.