SANDY, Utah – Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar told reporters on Tuesday that his team is “getting healthier,” and reporters laughed.
Even Cassar had a big smile on his face as he said it.
Yes, some RSL players are returning to practice. A couple of the walking wounded will even be available on Saturday against Philadelphia (4 pm ET; MLS Live), including veteran defender Chris Wingert, who suffered a groin injury in a win over Toronto FC on March 29 and did not travel with the team to Kansas City last week.
“I feel good. Definitely better,” Wingert told reporters. “It was just a slight strain. Nothing too serious. I didn't rip it or anything. And it wasn't fully healed last week, and I wanted to get it fully healed before going forward.”
Also available for the 18 is midfielder Sebastian Velasquez, who hasn't seen action all season after straining a hamstring. He returned to full training on Tuesday.
But just five games into the 2014 regular season, Salt Lake are already dealing with more than their share of injuries. So many that Cassar had to be reminded who's out so he could provide updates.
The most glaring absence in Saturday’s scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City was ironman goalkeeper Nick Rimando. And he’s expected to miss his second consecutive match after injuring his knee while on duty with the US national team last week.
“I don't think he's going to play this weekend, but I think he's getting better,” Cassar said.
Another casualty from the USMNT’s midweek friendly against Mexico was midfielder Tony Beltran, who sprained an ankle. He’s expected to train on Wednesday but is not expected to be available in Philadelphia.
Midfielder Luis Gil also has an “issue” that Cassar had trouble describing.
“It's kind of in a weird area” that might be a groin or a hamstring, he said. “If I describe it, you'd have to bleep me.”
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He also added that he believes the injury may account for Gil's lackluster performance in Kansas City on Saturday before he was subbed out in the 55th minute.
“He kind of looked like he was interested in the game, but maybe wasn't quite able to do what he needed to do,” Cassar said. “Something was up.”
Gil's availability for Saturday is uncertain.
Forward Joao Plata, who was originally expected to be out for three weeks after injuring a hamstring against LA on March 22, will not be available on Saturday. The diminutive forward, who scored two goals and added two assists in just three games, is “progressing.”
“But we want to be smart with him,” Cassar added.
And, though defender Chris Schuler was not at training on Tuesday, it was because he was given a day off to rest his foot, which was surgically repaired in the offseason.
Cassar said it was “just to make sure we're not pounding on it too much. We've had so many positive things with Chris, we don't want any setbacks.”
And finally, forward Robbie Findley, who underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn right patella tendon, “is getting closer,” Cassar said. “I think he's going to start joining us in practice early next week.”
At this point, RSL can hardly afford any more injuries.
“You can't do anything about injuries, other than rely on your depth and hope that you can get through it,” defender Nat Borchers told reporters.
Despite it all, though, RSL are off to their best start in their 10-year history at 2-0-3.
“For the staff and the rest of the team, you can't get too caught up in [injuries],” Wingert said. “You have to play with who you've got and do the best you can. And I think the guys have been stepping up.”