Hit hard by injuries, Real Salt Lake cross fingers as four stars compete with USMNT

SANDY, Utah — Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar will be glued to the television on Wednesday night, in some ways the most interested observer of the USA vs. Mexico friendly (11 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas). After all, more than one-third of his starting lineup is on the American squad.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando and midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Luis Gil were called up last week; they were joined by defender Tony Beltran on Saturday night after USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann watched RSL's 3-0 win over Toronto from his seat in Rio Tinto Stadium.

“I thought [Beltran] was especially good in that game,” Cassar said. “I thought his passing out of the back into the midfield, into the forwards, was spot-on. And it looks like Jurgen saw that, too.”

Real Salt Lake's opponent this weekend, Sporting Kansas City, will also be represented at the USA-Mexico friendly: Defender Matt Besler and forward Graham Zusi are both on the American squad. The biggest question is how much each will play and how they will recover in advance of Saturday's rematch of last year's MLS Cup final.

It is an especially significant worry for Cassar, given the rash of injuries Real Salt Lake have already suffered this season.

“I want them to play well and represent their country well,” Cassar said. “And obviously, get a win. It's great to have momentum heading into the World Cup. But I just want them to enjoy themselves.”

Getting all four players back healthy would be a big boost for Real Salt Lake, which is likely to miss both defender Chris Wingert (groin) and midfielder Sebastian Velasquez (hamstring) for Saturday's game. Velasquez and rookie midfielder Jordan Allen (ankle) both returned to training on Tuesday, but Velasquez does not expect to play Saturday.

“Just taking it step by step,” the 23-year-old attacker said. “I don't want to rush myself into another situation where I get injured again.”

On the plus side for Cassar, forward Devon Sandoval, who underwent offseason foot surgery, returned to training last week and got in for the final few minutes of Saturday's match.

The absence of the four national-team players, meanwhile, is clearly affecting training this week, but Salt Lake players and their coach walked off the field on Tuesday feeling pleased with the effort.

“Obviously, we miss those guys, but it's time for other people to step up, and today was fantastic," Cassar said. "[It] kind of messes up your rhythm just a little bit, but they're coming back on Thursday. We'll get a nice session in, and we'll try to cover a few things in the session on Friday.”

Veteran defender Nat Borchers pointed out that because this Real Salt Lake squad has been together for years, a few days away from training should not cause any major problems to their preparation.

“We're so used to those guys,” he said. “It's not like our rhythm is going to be off just because we didn't have those guys in training. I think they're just going to get plugged back in and we're going to be fine."