Today we witness the return of Real Salt Lake. After a preseason of mixed results, we get to see Mike Petke’s men in MLS action. The injury report only lists Jordan Allen, but Bill Glad confirmed on Twitter that his son, Justen, broke a toe on Thursday and did not travel. Two injuries is fewer than anything we saw last season. RSL also has the benefit of getting one of the Texas games out of the way before the heat of summer sets in. The Dynamo are deep into Concacaf Champions League and played on 2/26, so they won’t be as fresh as RSL. Can RSL win on the road and set a good tempo for the start of the 2019 Major League Soccer season?
The biggest question for today’s match is who starts. With offseason additions like striker Sam Johnson and midfielder Everton Luiz, will head coach Mike Petke play it safe and start a similar XI to last season or will he throw one, if not both, of the new guys into the deep end? I would be surprised if those played didn’t at least get some minutes as substitutions, but either way they are a focal point for this game. New players are always exciting, but after a few misses at striker, everyone is eager to see how Johnson preforms. He was held out of the last few preseason games due to a minor ankle injury, so he might not be match fit.
If Luiz plays, what does that do the rest of the misfiled? It seems like Beckerman will start, but where does that put Rusnak and Kreilach? Real has a lot of depth, which means we’re not totally sure what to expect this early in the season.
2018 was a fantastic year for Damir Kreilach and Corey Baird. Both players exceeded expectations in the attack, but the fact they had to was not ideal. 2018 was the second most goals Real has scored in a season, all without a true number 9 (center forward). Enter Sam Johnson. The Liberian DP could be the guy that fills a role that’s been empty since Saborío left in 2015. But as last year proved, a team can have success in the attack without a natural center forward. The wings are incredibly crowded as well. Left wing is going to be a competitive spot between Plata and Saucedo. Right wing seems to be locked down by Savarino.
There’s also the style of how the team attacks. We did see the long ball a fair bit in preseason. Watch to see how many times the team sends the ball over the top, if that’s effective, and how involved Rusnak is. Albert is a player who operates best when he has the ball at his feet. Will he be the playmaker during this game?
The home growns have gotten a year older. Baird isn’t a rookie any more. Rimando has announced his retirement. The team is older and, hopefully, wiser. They’ve had more time to gel, even with a few new additions. One of the most important things to see early on in a season is team chemistry. Do the players trust one another? Are they able to anticipate runs and recoveries? Do they understand their individual roles? If RSL suffers a defeat in Houston, but has a clear understanding of team identity, then that bodes well for the year.
Out: Jordan Allen
Unlisted: Justen Glad
Glad’s injury was likely picked up after this week’s injury report was submitted, but his father confirmed via Twitter to RSL Soapbox that he suffered a broken toe on Thursday.
The lineup below is a bit of a guess. This early in the season, it’s difficult to say who Petke will rely on.