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2021 Player Profiles: Maikel Chang

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2021 was the year Maikel Chang became a starting player for Real Salt Lake.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

It’s been a wild ride for Maikel Chang. The 30-year-old Cuban built on his debut season during his second year with RSL, as the midfielder was regularly relied on throughout the 20/21 season. Chang saw the field in all but six total matches, with 12 of them being starts, matching his total starts from last season. This season he added two playoff starts to his resume.

After defecting in Canada in 2013 while representing the Cuban national team, Chang found himself with the Charleston Battery of USL, a club that has regularly harbored Cuban defectors. Chang quickly became a standout in the second division, then found his way to Real Monarchs, where he was one of the key players who led the Monarchs to their league title in 2019 before he was promoted to the first team.

Chang is a proven player, has American citizenship, and is on a salary cap-friendly deal. Arguably the most interesting aspect of Chang’s time with RSL is how much time he spends on the field despite being caught in the log jam of wide players that were on the roster last year, especially by the end of the year.

Lacking the flash and name recognition as some of his counterparts, it is very apparent that head coach Pablo Mastroeni favored Chang as a starter. Former head coach Freddy Juarez typically used Maikel as a late-game sub, but under Mastroeni, Chang had seven of his 12 total starts come in RSL’s last 12 games. This proved to be useful, as the hardworking and energetic Chang allowed for super-sub Anderson Julio to shine off the bench, and MLS vet Justin Meram to become an impact player late in games.

The midfielder’s versatility and effort also worked well in the shift to a 3-5-2 formation. The same should be expected in the 2022 season. Much of the team’s roster is still being pieced together for the new year, but as things currently stand, Chang will likely see an uptick in playing time, at least until other big-name players are added.

Either way, Chang provides the (now very young) team with experience, depth, and versatility. He may not be an out and out game-changer like many would hope from an MLS starter in his position, but he has always been consistent and reliable, which is valuable over the course of the season in its own way.