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RSL’s injuries, absences leave team short-handed on new turf

What’s Real Salt Lake to do? Will Mike Petke try a new formation?

John Engels

Traveling to face New England Revolution, Real Salt Lake have likely brought fewer players than they’d need to fill an entire 18-man lineup. And that’s for a match that’s being played on brand-spanking-new turf, which should just be all of the fun in the world.

That’s not out of choice, certainly, but an indication that the injury crisis, when coupled with international absences, is going to leave us in a bit of a bind.

And while it’s a fun exercise to put together an injured XI — and informative, really, because it shows the quality of player we have in the lineup but unable to play — it’s going to be a much more arduous exercise to decide on a starting XI.

First, let’s go over the players who are potentially missing from the match.

  • Acosta, Danilo — international absence
  • Allen, Jordan — short-to-medium-term injury
  • Barrett, Chad — long-term injury
  • Beckerman, Kyle — unknown injury length
  • Beltran, Tony — ‘day-to-day’
  • Glad, Justen — short-term injury, potential international absence
  • Horst, David — medium-term injury
  • Lennon, Brooks — international absence
  • Rimando, Nick — short-to-medium-term injury
  • Rusnak, Albert — unknown injury length
  • Saucedo, Sebastian — international absence
  • Schmidt, Justin — potential injury, per Trib reporter Chris Kamrani

So, you know. That’s a pretty good set of players. That leaves us with:

  • Dunk, Reagan
  • Fernandez, Eduardo
  • Hernandez, Jose
  • Holness, Omar
  • Maund, Aaron
  • Movsisyan, Yura
  • Mulholland, Luke
  • Phillips, Demar
  • Plata, Joao
  • Savarino, Jefferson
  • Schuler, Chris
  • Silva, Luis
  • Stephen, Sunday
  • Van Oekel, Matt
  • Velazco, Ricardo
  • Wingert, Chris

That group of players certainly has some highlights, but it has some lowlights, too. But it does leave us with a few reasonable lineup options:

Choice one: Steady as she goes, 4-3-3

Let’s try this one on for size:

VanOekel; Wingert, Maund, Schuler, Phillips; Mulholland, Sunny, Silva; Velazco, Movsisyan, Plata

That’s not too bad, right? I mean, it’s hardly preferable, but you’re at least giving players opportunities. Something tells me that’s not what RSL coach Mike Petke will be going for. So...

Choice two: Try something new, 4-3-2-1

How about:

VanOekel; Wingert, Maund, Schuler, Phillips; Sunny, Mulholland, Holness; Velazco, Plata; Movsisyan

That might just give us a little bit more strength in the midfield than we’ve been experiencing as of late, and it’s pretty sensible. The big question becomes about how that midfield plays — are they flat? Pivoting? One back, two up? Two back, one up? You get the picture. There are a lot of ways to spin that.

That would leave us with Ricardo Velazco and Joao Plata in creative positions, with both having the freedom to drift wide, and both being given the opportunity to stay centrally.

You could also spin this as a 4-3-1-2, with Plata moving further up alongside Yura Movsisyan.

Choice three: Caution to the wind, 4-4-2

If we don’t have a player who’s necessarily suitable for the attacking midfield position if Albert Rusnak is out, then maybe we’d see something where we don’t try to force ourselves into a system that uses a player like him. It could look like this:

VanOekel; Wingert, Maund, Schuler, Phillips; Velazco, Mulholland, Sunny, Holness; Plata, Movsisyan

We’d need to defend with a flat four in the midfield, and they’d move forward like a traditional setup with a winger. That wouldn’t be too different from what we do now, with the exception that we wouldn’t expect Joao Plata to do any defensive work.

Whatever we try, we’ll be in a bit of a bind. We can find a formation that might work with the players available, but can we find a formation that also fits the players on the bench? Can we do something that doesn’t force us to constantly press, with three games in relatively quick succession for the first time this season?

Don’t expect too many changes on the backline, though. That’s sort of our natural best option there, and I wouldn’t count on that changing too radically.