Real Salt Lake will be without Kyle Beckerman on Saturday, owing to an MLS Disciplinary Committee suspension. If I’m being frank, that’s not giving me a lot of hope about Saturday’s match.
It’s not that we’re a one-man team, but Beckerman’s appearances for us this year have only occasionally seen us lose badly. He missed the final three matches of our four-match losing streak, and it was obvious at that time how much we missed the captain.
See, here’s the thing: Kyle Beckerman is not the fastest player on the field, nor is he the most agile. He won’t score you more than a goal or two a season, and he won’t be a primary assist-giver. Sure, he’s done both of those things before, but that’s not where he is in his career, and that’s where we are as a team. He’s going to have to stay back with the center backs with a little more frequency.
But you know what Kyle Beckerman is? Disciplined. And it’s funny that I’m using that word, because he was given a disciplinary suspension for kicking Clint Dempsey (no comment), and he’s already been shown a real, live red card this season. But it’s not that type of discipline that makes our team tick properly.
It’s the discipline in movement, passing and tactics. There was always a chance it was going to be that way, but seeing it confirmed brings to mind the steady quality of his play. After all, he was the guy for Jeff Cassar — the fulcrum — and undoubtedly even more so under Jason Kreis. He makes everybody on the field better, and even as he ages, that hasn’t diminished.
Of course, we could talk about discipline in the other form — there’s certainly something to think about there — but that’s behind us now. And, honestly, I’m more interested in talking about the impact he’ll have in his absence, so that’s what you’ll get.
It does feel a little like we’re constantly rehashing the same thing, though, so let’s put a little twist on it. Let’s not talk about like-for-like replacements, but rather players that could have similar impacts on the team.
Having been out of contention since Jeff Cassar’s last match as RSL coach, Tony Beltran presents a little bit of a mystery under Mike Petke. For the first time in years, really, Beltran missed an extended period of matches. (The last time? That was 2011, when he played on Sept. 10, then played Nov. 2 in the playoffs.) We can’t look at Beltran as a panacea, especially because he simply might not play. But he’s said to be available, and a start could substantially change things.
Beltran’s best quality is almost certainly his steadiness. He rarely has a bad game. He might not be a tremendous standout to many, even though he’s twice made the MLS All-Star team. He’s a good one-on-one defender, and right now, that might just be what we need.
Too many times, we’ve seen teams send in a quick cross to break down our defense. If we can deploy Beltran in his usual way, that might suddenly become less of an issue. It won’t instantly solve it, but it’s something that we might really get some benefit from.
As a 29-year-old defender who still doesn’t quite have 100 regular season games for Real Salt Lake under his belt, Schuler would seem an unlikely choice for being a game-changer. And his record this season doesn’t exactly make you sit up and take immediate notice — at least not in a positive way. Except, well, he’s played in every RSL win this season (33 percent of his matches, folks.)
Anyway, Schuler has become a vocal presence in the defense, and that’s something that can help the team as we try to steady the fort. If our last match was us at our most organized, then we can thank players like Beckerman and Schuler for that. They’re not the only ones, of course — but if we’re looking for a vocal, smart player, we don’t have to look past Schuler.
Look. Albert Rusnak is new, and he’s young. He isn’t the same as, say, a Javier Morales. But he’s quickly showing that he’s the sort of player that will take things onto himself when given the opportunity. That’s the spirit of Kyle Beckerman there. Sure, Rusnak is still learning how best to do that in MLS — and not just because of opponents, but because of his teammates, too.
In Rusnak, we have an immensely talented player. He might be the heir-apparent to Javier Morales’s throne, and he equally might not be. We don’t really know the answer to that one yet. But we do know that he’s been vocal off the field, and he’s starting to show he can take control on it.