TUCSON, Ariz. – With three starters from last season gone and several new faces in the starting lineup due to injuries, Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey have spoken openly about how much of the 2013 season will be a learning curve.
On Saturday night, we saw a sneak preview of what that could mean. RSL dominated a Seattle reserve lineup for the first 50 minutes of the Desert Diamond Cup final, moving the ball brightly and creating oodles of chances. Five times they were thwarted by Marcus Hahnemann’s heroic goalkeeping but kept pushing forward with numbers.
But in the 51st minute, it all came unglued. Seattle’s Alex Caskey made a run into the box unchallenged as Kenny Mansally desperately tried to chase him down, cut back on a sliding Chris Schuler and put a close-range shot on goal that barely deflected of Kyle Beckerman’s knee and out of Nick Rimando’s reach. And according to Kreis, the response was troublesome.
“We have one breakage in play in the second half that they score off of,” Kreis explained to MLSsoccer.com after the 1-0 loss. “It was disappointing. But what was more disappointing than that was the reaction to that, because it took us a good 10-15 minutes to get ourselves going again and it was almost as if we had a little quit in us, and that makes me nervous – or angry, you pick.”
Following the goal, the momentum switched back the Sounders’ way as they forced the issue on RSL’s young backline. Lamar Neagle had two good scoring chances in quick succession less than 10 minutes later.
RSL’s presumptive opening-day back four may be young (average age: 25), but they’re not inexperienced. Schuler, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Mansally and Tony Beltran have a combined 139 career starts while wearing Claret-and-Cobalt.
But the fact that they’ve all been lumped together at once to fill in for players who have either departed (Jámison Olave) or are out injured (Nat Borchers and Chris Wingert) means they’ll have to develop their own chemistry in a hurry.
“All four of them back there have proven to be good players in MLS and starters, but we really haven’t had all four together at the same time,” Rimando told MLSsoccer.com. “Borchers complemented Schuler, Olave complemented Kwame – it’s different when you have two young guys who get thrown in there to be on the same page right away.”
Regardless, they don’t have much more time to figure it out, despite a positive preseason together. RSL open the regular season with five of their first seven games on the road, and the return dates of Borchers and Wingert are uncertain.
“[They’re] still learning, they’ve got to keep on learning at the beginning of the season and hopefully click sooner than later,” added Rimando. “I think guys are open-minded and raw. But getting them all together at once is a process and something that we have to go through and just learn from each game that we’re in.”