SANDY, Utah – Damir Kreilach showed where he’s most comfortable on the field for Real Salt Lake on Saturday, and that’s in the midfield.
Kreilach scored his fourth goal of the season – all coming when he’s played in midfield – in the 11th minute of RSL’s 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids, as Joao Plata picked out his run into the middle of the Rapids penalty box and Kreilach’s header beat goalkeeper Tim Howard at the near post for an early 1-0 lead, part of the home side’s strong start to the Rocky Mountain Cup rivalry showdown.
“He’s big. He’s probably the best header of the ball on our team,” Kreilach's teammate Albert Rusnak said. “It’s one of his strengths and it makes us stronger as a team having him in the middle to win the headers and flick-ons.
“We’re not the biggest team, let’s be honest. At least we have a couple of players that can win those headers.”
With their undersized forwards on the wings and the rest of the midfield clocking in at average height, Kreilach’s size does add a different element, but that isn’t all.
“Experience, quality. As a No. 8 you want him to be able to connect the backline to the frontline,” RSL assistant coach Freddy Juarez said. “He’s a good player for us.”
In addition to his height, Kreilach brings maturity and experience as he approaches the 300th appearance of a professional career that has taken him from Croatia to Germany and now to MLS.
HIGHLIGHTS: Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids | July 21, 2018
Kreilach has played all over the field during that time, but he’s settled into his role in the RSL midfield more smoothly than his occasional forays as a forward.
“It’s comfortable,” Kreilach said. “Before, I switched between 10, 8 or 6 and because of that it has been no problem.”
The former captain of Union Berlin, who joined RSL over the winter, has also brought an experienced touch alongside captain Kyle Beckerman. In his last 15 games as a midfielder, Kreilach has scored a goal or assisted in 10 of them.
His six assists are tied for the team lead with Rusnak and he’s added four goals so far this season, one behind Rusnak for the lead among midfielders.
Twice this season Kreilach has started as a center forward, trying to use his height to anchor the attack. Both times resulted in losses, including last week’s 3-2 setback at Minnesota.
As a forward, he must depend on his teammates to deliver him the ball in good positions, which he says is probably the hardest part.
“I want to have the ball, like anyone,” Kreilach said.
Moving forward, Kreilach said he’ll play wherever he’d needed, and RSL head coach Mike Petke said after the Minnesota game that the experiment with him as a forward isn’t over with. Yet if the first 20 minutes on Saturday are any indication, keeping him in the midfield may be what’s best for the RSL attack.