With the coming of a new season, so too comes a slew of young Real Salt Lake signings that you should keep your eyes on.
Here are five players we’ll be paying close attention to as we figure out how they fit into the club, from how they can find their way into the team to what they might be able to offer.
One of the 2018 additions, Baird is — as we say every time we talk about him — a three-time College Cup winner, a forward who can play on the wings and in the midfield, and a player that RSL GM Craig Waibel has described as a “top three” draft pick. Instead, RSL picked him up through his time with the academy.
Why should you be paying attention to Baird? He’s probably going to end up playing 10 to 15 matches at minimum, and I can’t wait to see exactly what he can do for us. If he is a “top three” pick, he should be expected to make an impact on the first team.
Despite being a professional for upward of six years, Henley is sort of the apparent pick to serve in Tony Beltran’s right back spot, and he has a big opportunity in front of him because of Beltran’s injury that will keep him out for much of 2018.
Look for Henley to prove himself a solid right back. He’s got an attacking bent to his play, but he’s also a hard-nosed tackler. There’s a bit of adventure and risk to his play, so in that way, he’s a little bit the opposite of Beltran, who is certainly a generally calm, collected figure at right back. There’s some risk to Henley, though, given he’s been prone to injury in the last few years. He’ll want to prove he’s past that, and the club will want to make sure they protect him from that particular bug.
From right back to right back here, Herrera is almost a bit of an unknown, save, of course, the fact that we watched him play several times in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship and the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. But it’s one thing to see a player against players their own age; when they step into a professional role, there’s certainly a learning curve to be had.
We’re likely to have plenty of opportunities to see Herrera play, given the caution we can expect to see around Henley’s injury-proneness. He’s a bit of a bombardier on the wing, so look for him to get to the end line before sending in cross after cross.
Easily the player we know the least about, Lopez-Espin is a first-year professional, coming out of the MLS Draft. He’s also playing in RSL’s deepest position, but we had a chance to see him in preseason, and he looked at the very least passable, and he contributed well to Alfredo Ortuño’s first (preseason) goal with the club. Look for the striker to play plenty of minutes with Real Monarchs as he establishes himself.
There’s something exciting about signing a young player that’s been in the youth national team picture. I had a similar feeling when we signed Jefferson Savarino, as in spite of the uncertainty around the player, there’s a sense that he could be really, really good. Ruiz might not be a world-beater like Savarino could be (should his trajectory continue, of course), but he’s coming into a midfield that could use a bit of shaking up. Maybe he’ll be the person to do it.