Following several nights in their own beds and the annual Media Day blitz today, RSL will once again leave SLC on Tuesday for the 6th annual Portland preseason tournament.
At Providence Park, they will face three different opponents — Portland, Vancouver and Minnesota — in only six days as they attempt to continue their progression toward opening day at Rio Tinto on March 4th. Here are three things to keep an eye on during the next week and a half.
Emergence of an 18-man opening day squad
While there will continue to be a lot of substitution as the team works to attain match fitness, the three games in Portland should see less rotation and the use of two completely different teams should end. The focus will shift to the offensive side of the ball and establishing timing among the various positions and players. There may be some situational changes based upon the opponent of that day, but it is time to identify a starting 11 and fill out a bench of possible substitutes.
You should expect the starters in each of the matches to go for 60 minutes or longer with others getting less time and fewer appearances as they move through the three matches. While it was apparent during both of RSL’s matches in Tucson that legs were getting heavy well before the half ended, practices in this leg are going to be less physical and more will be demanded on the field at game time.
The current U-20 training camp will end on Friday and the squad for the CONCACAF Championship will be named. Current predictions have Justen Glad, Sebastian Saucedo, Danilo Acosta, and Brooks Lennon all making the squad which will rule them out for opening day. Should any or all of the three signed players fail to make the squad, expect to see them in the lineup on Sunday against Vancouver and/or Wednesday against Minnesota so the coaches can have another look at them.
Finalization of the RSL roster and additions to the Monarchs roster
While RSL has only the three unsigned draftees and perhaps Emory Welshman as a trialist in their camp, this is the portion of the preseason where signing decisions are made. MLS teams, especially those without associated USL squads where they can sign players who don’t make the first team, need to finalize their rosters and many will want to leave time for players to catch on with a squad for the season.
Reagan Dunk, Justin Schmidt and Andrew Putna should sign with RSL, the Monarchs, or be released in the next two weeks. Emory Welshman should also get a decision on his future from team staff.
Real Monarch players officially report on February 11th and new head coach Mike Petke and his staff will open their initial spring camp. As the current Monarchs roster is still small it is entirely possible that additional signings will be made to flesh out the squad as players become available from other teams. Any Monarchs players that remain in RSL camp past this date would also seem to have a good chance to see call ups later in the season if depth becomes necessary.
Continued progress in play through all three matches
Here are a keys for each of the three games in Portland as we attempt to measure the progress of the team.
Portland suffered a season ending injury to Gbenga Arokoyo, one of their projected starting center backs, early last week and started Rennico Clarke, who was promoted from Timbers 2 earlier this season, against the Sounders on Saturday. We may also have our first chance to see Jeff Antinella in a Timbers uniform. While the Timbers offense has scored 3 goals in their earlier matches, they have given up 6. This game will be an early test to see how well the new faces on the offensive side can continue to improve the timing and synch up with the veterans. Can Joao Plata, Yura Movsisian, Jordan Allen and others take advantage of Portland’s current weakness and find the back of the net?
Vancouver spent the first leg of their preseason in Wales and although they scored 8 goals in their last two matches against lower division competition a lot of questions remain about the nature and makeup of their front line attackers. Erik Hurtado seems to be a default choice as lead striker with injuries to Giles Barnes, but rarely finds the back of the next. His current backup, Kyle Greig, is a recent signing for the team’s USL squad. This match could be a good measure on the progress of RSL’s defense with the return of Nick Rimando from national team duty and a veteran back four in front of him. Can RSL get a shutout against the unsettled offense of Vancouver who is also preparing for Champions League play against the Red Bulls?
As an expansion side Minnesota are building a squad from scratch and have also played in fewer preseason matches that the other three teams in the tournament. The final match of three within 6 days should be a excellent test of RSL’s fitness and overall cohesion and possession. Will RSL be able to dictate the tempo and pace of this game against the novice Minnesota side?