LEHI, Utah — As Real Salt Lake prepare for Saturday’s contest at Rio Tinto Stadium against Sporting Kansas City (9 pm ET; watch LIVE online), one big question remains.
Who will Jason Kreis call to fill the void at left back created by the suspension of Tony Beltran and the injury to Chris Wingert, who broke his wrist a few weeks ago?
Though lanky central defender Chris Schuler and newly signed veteran Blake Wagner are both viable options, it seems more likely that Schuler will get the nod.
On Thursday, a slim squad of reserve players and trialists hit the training pitch while the first teamers had a “regeneration” day. According to Kreis, the brief break was in consideration of the upcoming schedule. Schuler was not among those on the practice field, while Wagner was.
“I think that we’ve seen with every new player that we’ve brought in, that it takes a while,” Kreis said of Wagner's progress in getting up to speed in his new squad. "I think it just takes a while, and I think he’s getting close.”
For his part, Wagner appeared comfortable should he be called upon, but he admitted that Schuler has played well as of late.
“If they call my name I’ll be ready,” Wagner said. “But Chris has done well. He did well in Seattle. He’s been doing well there even though it’s probably not his natural position.”
Whether Wagner or Schuler get the nod, the attacking prowess of Sporting KC will be difficult to deal with. Sporting bring an aggressive, physical and athletic attacking style and put a lot of pressure on opposing back lines, evidenced by the 19 goals they've scored in their past nine matches.
“They are on fire right now,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “They play their best when they put you under pressure, but we play really well here [at Rio Tinto Stadium]. They’re a good team — an exciting team to watch, but so are we.”
Rimando also indicated that his team may also be looking to avenge a 2-0 beatdown suffered at Livestrong Sporting Park in early August. In that match, Sporting jumped all over RSL, scoring two first-half goals before losing Roger Espinoza to a red card early in the second half.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Rimando said. "They beat us last time and we need to get some points against these guys.”