With rotation very much on the cards tonight against Montreal Impact, we’re set to see a few players come into the lineup that we haven’t seen in a while.
Who might those be? I don’t really know. But I do think we have a handful of players that will have something to prove this summer — in some cases, it may be the sort of thing that keeps them at Real Salt Lake; in other cases, it may be the sort of thing that leads to them earning more minutes down the line, or potentially earning first-team spots, should others leave.
Let’s jump headlong into this.
5 — Pablo Ruiz
The youngster earned important minutes down the line for RSL in 2018, but 2019 has been an almost complete reversal. He’s not earning regular minutes with neither Real Salt Lake nor Real Monarchs, playing just four matches for the latter. Two of those matches were substitute appearances.
Ruiz currently takes up both a senior roster spot and an international roster spot. Those are two valuable designations, and it’s difficult to stomach using those on players who aren’t contending for minutes. He’ll need to prove that he has significant enough upside that the roster cost is worth the expenditure.
4 — Justin Portillo
So here’s an interesting one for me: Portillo, 26, is on the supplemental roster, and he’s not having a salary budget impact as a result. He doesn’t use an international slot. He has those two big things going for him.
But Portillo is at this point a bit player: He’s behind Kyle Beckerman, Nick Besler and Everton Luiz at the defensive midfielder spot. It’s hard to imagine him moving past those players. He may even be able to fill in at the other midfield spot, where he’d find himself also behind a similar number of players.
He’ll want to prove that he’s a strong enough player to come in every five or six games, at best, and provide positional continuity. Doing that would help him earn the trust of the coaching staff more regularly to make an impact. To this point, he hasn’t had the opportunity.
3 — Brooks Lennon
After starting nearly every match in 2018 (32 of 34), Lennon has mostly been relegated to a substitute role, playing either at right wing or right back, depending on the needs of the team. That flexibility could be a real boost for RSL, but it’ll be hard for him to gain solid ground without starting matches.
Lennon will want to prove that he deserves starting minutes when international duty saps RSL’s attacking outlay, or if Aaron Herrera is injured or loses ground as a starting right back. He could legitimately become an important attacking player for us, and he might have the right stuff to become an impact substitute.
While Lennon may not be the best pure right back — I think we’ve seen that to this point —— he’s a hard-working attacking player that could have some real value for this team.
2 — Luke Mulholland
After a spate of strange injury concerns around his back that kept him out for nearly all of 2018, Mulholland hasn’t been even close to returning to the lineup for RSL in 2019. As a 30-year-old player, Mulholland is on the back end of his career, and he’s now a non-factor on his team. I don’t see that changing, but certainly, stranger things have happened and will happen.
Can Mulholland work his way back into the lineup? He’s got a slew of very good players ahead of him, and while his tenacity could certainly help him out, injury concerns might just overrule it.
1 — Marcelo Silva
So here’s a doozy: Marcelo Silva, one of RSL’s highest-paid players, has played fewer than half the matches he’s been available for. Part of that came through injury, but that’s far from all. He’s now behind Nedum Onuoha and Justen Glad, and that’s a really difficult place to find yourself with a TAM-level player.
Silva will need to prove that he should be starting — he may get his opportunities to do so. But at the same time, with a massive salary impact, a senior roster position, and an international slot on the line, Silva might just not be the player Real Salt Lake needs as a backup center back.