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Why we may see Aaron Herrera in RSL’s attack against Orlando City SC

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The right back is moving up in the world. Or in the lineup. We’ll see.

MLS: MLS Cup Conference Semifinals-Real Salt Lake at Seattle Sounders FC Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When we saw Aaron Herrera in Real Salt Lake’s attack in multiple preseason matches, we were all left scratching our heads.

After all, Herrera is hardly the best option for the club at right wing, and it seemed like we may want to try those first. But a series of injuries appears to have limited the club’s options, and I get using preseason to give unusual lineup choices an opportunity to become eye-openers.

I’m not sure that’s what happened here. Herrera was passable at best in the position, and much of what he brought to right back was gone with a more defense-minded Justen Glad in his place. (He did, however, provide one of just two assists in streamed RSL preseason matches, so maybe he’s actually not as bad as I thought.)

However, a spate of injuries looks to have put RSL in the position of needing to explore the possibility of giving Herrera a spin on the right wing. After spending an unwieldy amount of time putting together a spreadsheet to help me figure out who might play on Saturday, I came to a realization. First, I didn’t realize you could combine ranges with curly braces. That was nice to discover. Second, an injury and an absence have pushed Herrera into the top two right wing players available.

That injury? That’s Corey Baird, who apparently has a hamstring concern. He’s probably the natural first-choice player there right now when available, though I suspect Jeizon Ramirez will get a shot there, too.

The absence? That’s Jeizon Ramirez, who at last accounting, hadn’t left Venezuela. We ought not be impatient about an untested 18-year-old, so I simply hope it works out well. Still, it’s clear to see from a political perspective that getting in and out of Venezuela, particularly in regard to the U.S., is not the easiest thing, So there’s that.

Other options are perhaps also square-peg, round-hole scenarios:

  • Milan Iloski, who looks to be used as a central forward in RSL’s system, if preseason is anything to go by. His college highlights showed him nearly always on the left.
  • Julian Vazquez, who didn’t see minutes in streamed first-team preseason matches and is unlikely to start.
  • Tate Schmitt has been seen as a left-sided player, both at full back, wing back and winger. He’s also a viable forward option. I wouldn’t count on him starting on the right, but you do never know.

The only other clear option is Maikel Chang, who may well be a good choice, if not the preferred one. Chang played centrally in an attacking midfield role, as a forward, and as a winger for Real Monarchs, so his versatility would make him a likely bench player. Should he start at winger over Herrera? I don’t know.

Of course, there’s one other option here that I’m thinking about. It’s unlikely, but to be honest, we barely know our coach. I mean, we do know him, but this is his first match with a preseason under his belt, and it makes me wonder one thing.

Is Freddy Juarez going to swerve on us?

We saw Aaron Herrera at right wing. We saw Justen Glad at full back.

What if we’re not going for a 4-3-3, like we normally do. (Or a 4-5-1, or a 4-2-3-1 ... however you want to describe it is fine, really.) What if we’re going for a five-man back line, and we’ve been putting Herrera in a purely attacking role as a way to give him more attacking reps? What if we’re trying to pull the wool over our opponent’s eyes? What if Herrera is set for a right wing back role, and Justen Glad as a right-sided center back?

A move like this wouldn’t require massive changes to the lineup — if it would require any. We have few out-and-out wingers in our squad, and they ought to be flexible enough to handle this.

See, I don’t think we can rule this out. More, I don’t think we have the evidence to rule it out. This hypothesis can be disproven, but we don’t have the necessary facts.

But, if we’re being wise about this, maybe we should accept that we’ll probably just see Herrera at right wing. Occam’s Razor is probably the right tool for this job, and the simpler explanation — the one that requires less invention of facts and inner-workings — is that Herrera was played in preseason like he’ll be played in Saturday’s match.

We’ll see, I guess.