PORTLAND, Ore. — Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis has a couple of big substitutions to make on Sunday night in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, and he's pretty pleased with his options.
Up top, his leading scorer, Álvaro Saborío, is out with a pulled muscle. And on the backline, stalwart defender Chris Wingert is out after breaking a rib and suffering a pneumothorax in RSL's 4-2 win over the Timbers in the first leg of the Western final.
And Kreis does have options.
“It's really interesting this year because we can approach it a lot of different ways,” Kreis told reporters at JELD-WEN Field a day before Sunday night's second leg.
Up top, he can go with rookie Devon Sandoval — who scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the opening leg on Nov. 10 — or Joao Plata or Olmes García. Kreis wasn't tipping his hand about who he will start in Saborío's place on Sunday, but he did praise Sandoval for his performance in the first leg and his “ability and mentality” throughout his rookie season.
“He's a good soccer player and a very good finisher of the ball," he said. "He likes to hold things up. He's different from a lot of forwards that you see in our country. There are very, very few forwards produced that play that position that way.”
A year ago, Sandoval was at the University of New Mexico “getting ready to play in the second round of the NCAA Tournament,” as he pointed out MLSsoccer.com. “So, yeah, it's pretty cool.”
Wingert was injured in the 13th minute of the Nov. 10 match; he came out 20 minutes later and was replaced by Lovel Palmer — a former Timber who helped spark RSL's comeback from one-goal deficit to a two-goal win.
Kreis had high praise for Palmer as well, along with his other backups.
“I'm extremely grateful that we built the team the way we did this year,” Kreis said. “Because it goes past that. We've got [Abdoulie] Mansally there as well. So even if we have another injury, we'd be putting an outside back that's probably got 50 MLS games at least and has paid a dozen for us at outside back in a starting position.”
“To be frank, Sebastian's done a fantastic job,” Kreis said. “Not good, not solid, but fantastic. So it's really good to have difficult decisions to make.”
Kreis said the start might go to Grabavoy based on his experience, “but just on sheer earning it alone, you'd probably say Sebastian deserves another game. So, difficult choice in front of us.”