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Five players to watch in RSL vs. Sporting KC

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the first time we’ll get to see Real Salt Lake in person (unless you happened to watch an earlier scrimmage, in which case, I’m jealous; good for you) and definitely the first time we’ll get to see them on stream.

With that in mind, here are five players to pay attention to tonight.

If they play. You know, that unknown. (I think we’ll see two lineups tonight, but this is Freddy Juarez’s first MLS preseason! You never know.)

1. Justin Meram

RSL’s new no. 9 (OK, this is only partly true, and it’s mostly me trying to wind you up a bit) has a chance to become a very important player for us, and this could well be the start of something good. Talk from players on official channels has shown him as a communicator and leader, and I sure hope we get to see him do just that tonight.

2. Zac MacMath

MacMath, for me, has the potential to be the signing of the season, but even if he plays every match, I think there would be some moaning about it. That’s because we have a really talented youngster who is also fighting for minutes — so for me, I’m curious to see if MacMath starts to establish a starting role for himself, or if he perhaps falters a bit. I think the best case is the former, and there’s strong competition across the board.

3. Albert Rusnak

So, like, Albert Rusnak is still a thing. I’m wondering, though: How does he play in Juarez’s system? We saw him in 2019 as a player who was mostly connective, and his assists total — with three, he’s below Kyle Beckerman’s four in MLS play — reflected that. (Now, a sidebar: MLS counts assists differently than other platforms. I’m going with WhoScored here, who won’t be counting ‘second assists’.)

If we’re going to be successful, our most expensive player simply must show up. We need set piece goals. (Rusnak had just one assist from a set piece, and he was the only player — the only one! — to have even one. It’s quite distressing, really.) He also needs to help his teammates show up — while he led the team in key passes by a very significant margin, we have to ask why people simply didn’t score from them.

So, yeah. I’m watching Albert Rusnak to see if he can step things up, and if he can provide chances that lead to goals. (Seriously, though. I guess I should go to the data and see what it is that’s keeping Albert Rusnak passes from being the source of an a goal. It’s so weird.)

4. Chris Garcia (and, by extension, Julian Vazquez and Luis Arriaga)

So this youngster got himself an RSL contract after a good preseason. I want to see how good he is now. Let’s give him minutes and see what he can do against an MLS side. Is he as good as the claims? It’s OK if he’s not, of course. Players all take time to develop, so let’s not deprive him of that by hoisting expectations early.

By that same token, I’d love to see Vazquez and Arriaga playing. We brought them in on homegrown contracts and haven’t seen much of them yet, sometimes even at a Real Monarchs level. Let’s see where they’re at in their development.

5. Alvin Jones, Ashtone Morgan

We finally have depth at both left and right back (without having to succumb to playing a player out of position) and that’s prompted me to shove these two players into one section here. (I know the headline said five. I’m sorry. And when you continue, I’ll have to apologize again, so...)

Anyway, Jones and Morgan are very interesting to me for different reasons. Jones comes without MLS experience, so he’s making a jump here. Morgan is a veteran of MLS 2.0 — I think that’s what the designation was, at least (are we in 3.0 now??) — and has a jump of his own to make.

BONUS. Giuseppe Rossi

So here’s the thing. I don’t think Giuseppe Rossi plays tonight, but maybe he does, and that would be super interesting. There are so many unknowns with this guy. Is he the chosen one? HMMMMMM.