SANDY, Utah — For the first time this season, Real Salt Lake's Sebastian Velasquez got on the field in a game on Saturday.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who has been rehabbing a hamstring injury he suffered in training just before the regular season began, was a 73rd-minute substitute in Philadelphia, entering in place of Luke Mulholland. Just eight minutes later, he set up the play that led to RSL's second goal in the 2-2 tie, navigating past a pair of Union defenders to deliver the ball to Javier Morales, who set up Kyle Beckerman for the go-ahead strike.
“It felt amazing,” Velasquez told MLSsoccer.com. “After such a long time to be off the field, it felt great to finally get an opportunity to play. Luckily, I was able to contribute on one of the goals.”
RSL coach Jeff Cassar sounded impressed by the midfielder's progress, telling reporters after the match that “Sebastian is looking better and better all the time.”
Velasquez is just one of a slew of Salt Lake players trying to fight their way back from injuries; 14 members of the 28-man roster have missed at least one game due to injury, and the season is only six games old.
Velasquez may not start against Portland on Saturday (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), but he could come off the bench again.
“Right now, I'm just looking to get fit and get my confidence back,” he said. “Any chance you get, after not seeing the ball for such a long time, you get the ball on your feet, [and] you just want to do what you know how to do. That's the mentality I came out with.”
Velasquez did not look exactly like himself, however. His hair was pretty much, well, normal – no unusual bits shaved out or unusual colors added. He says that's not going to last for long.
“It does look a little bit normal right now,” Velasquez said. “I'm just letting it grow again. I'm going to grow the rat tail back, but do something a little different this time. It'll be something exciting to see once this is done and grown out. I've got plans for the future.”
- Catch more RSL news at RealSaltLake.com
In other RSL injury news:
• Midfielder Luis Gil “is coming along,” said Cassar. Gil is back on the field training and may be available this weekend.
• Forward Joao Plata is working out with the team and spending time on the practice field, but Cassar said he is “not sure if he's going to be available for this weekend.”
• Forward Robbie Findley, recovering from offseason knee surgery, is just beginning to train with the team again and is “coming along. We’re being smart about that.”
• Goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who injured his knee playing for the US national team in a friendly against Mexico, is not expected to play. “I'd be really surprised if he's available for this weekend,” Cassar said, “but you never know.”