After spending 24 of February’s 29 days in three different parts of Arizona, it’s fair to say Real Salt Lake is well acquainted with the Grand Canyon State. And according to defender Nat Borchers, Arizona’s done right by RSL in their preseason preparations.
“I think the guys get a little bit restless at this time of the season because they’re ready for the season to start,” Borchers told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Tucson. “But we’ve got a nice setup here at a nice hotel, in a good area of town, and we’ve got a nice training pitch. I think this has been an ideal preseason trip for us.”
The Claret-and-Cobalt have played four preseason matches already, and have two more matches to go in the Desert Diamond Cup. According to RSL head coach Jason Kreis, this is the point where fatigue from training and excitement for the regular season intersect.
“It’s typical that you are on these road trips for so long that you definitely get tired of it and you want to move to move to the next phase, which is obviously the season,” Kreis explained. “Two matches left [in the Desert Diamond Cup] and we need to get a lot out of those.”
RSL are 1-1-2 over their four preseason games, drawing their first two matches against the Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United. The club have split their two Desert Diamond Cup games, beating the New York Red Bulls 1-0 before falling 2-0 to the LA Galaxy.
“I’ve really been pleased with all the aspects of what we’ve seen in the first two games,” Kreis said of the Tucson-based tournament. “The first one we were getting a lot of the first year players their first extended minutes against MLS competition and I think they learned a bit, and we learned a little bit about them as well. And then they played together against LA and I thought played very, very well.”
During this phase of camp, the team has put more emphasis on the attacking side of the ball than they did early on, and it appears that all is going according to plan as RSL dominated possession and chances for long stretches against LA. However, they also identified one aspect of their game that may require a bit more attention in the final days of preseason.
“It’s very typical that the final touch is the last thing to put into it and we haven’t done a tone of finishing, just straight finishing, and we probably need to spend the last few days emphasizing that,” Kreis explained. “But I think we’ve built this squad very nicely and things seem to be headed in a very good direction right now.”
That includes on the injury front. With Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Kyle Beckerman all seeing extensive practice time and good minutes in the last game, that leaves only Borchers, Álvaro Saborío, Will Johnson and Javier Morales on the mend. And all of them except Johnson have strung together multiple full training sessions in the last week.
“I think we’re headed in a very positive direction with our injuries,” noted Kreis. “Javier rejoined training today and I think he’s feeling much stronger. This is the first time that I can say with a little bit of confidence that I think he’s going to build from here out.”
Unfortunately, Johnson has been sitting out waiting for an appointment for a sports hernia surgery in Germany which is expected to take place within about a week. But the recovery period should be short, with players typically returning to training within a couple of weeks.