HERRIMAN, Utah — Twice now Justen Glad hasn’t started in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. Considering he had started 50 straight games until the final week of Real Salt Lake’s regular season, his absence from the XI has been notable, partly because Salt Lake has found success without him in the lineup.
That may change on Sunday due to an injury to Marcelo Silva that required Glad to sub in during the first half in Leg 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals last Sunday against Sporting Kansas City, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
“Justen walks into that game and does what he’s done all year: He fills in and does his job,” Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke said. “Depending on how Marcelo is we’ll have a decision to make. It’s still up in the air, between Justen, Nedum [Onuoha], Marcelo and [Nick] Besler. They’re four guys who are hungry and four guys who want to play.”
An injury at center back wouldn’t be anything new for RSL. It seemed the majority of 2018 was spent with only two healthy center backs: Glad and Besler, with occasional healthy games from Silva. Bringing in Onuoha has changed that dynamic by providing Petke real options for the first time on the back line.
Onuoha getting up to speed allowed he and Silva to pair up for the penultimate regular season game, a 4-1 victory against New England, and have success. Their play in the Knockout Round triumph over LAFC and early on against Sporting Kansas City signaled a center back combination that was working without Glad being included.
It’s a good example of competition on the roster breeding better results.
“Nedum is a very good player. He’s brought his quality,” Glad said. “Competition elevates the game of everyone. If you know you have to come in and fight for a spot everyday, training doesn’t become training; it becomes a tryout. That’s awesome to have and hopefully pushes everyone to the highest level they can be.”
Not only did it show in the results, but it also helped keep Glad at the top of his game when he had to sub on in the 41st minute on Sunday.
“Justen played 33 games this year – that’s a hell of sub to have to go to – and nothing changed at all. He fit in there like a glove,” Petke said after the game on Sunday.
For Glad, it's been more of a question of when he’d get back into the starting lineup, not if.
“[Mike and I] talked a little bit," he said. "For me the main thing is to be ready at all times. Marcelo pulled out due to injury and I took the opportunity when it came. That’s the attitude going forward.”
Leg 2 on Sunday (3 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TVAS, TSN) may see Glad and Onuoha paired up out of the gate, which would be fine with Glad.
“He’s very vocal, which is awesome in terms of organizing and communicating with the backline," said Glad. "He’s a very physical presence which is always nice to have next to you. I’m looking forward to working with Nedum.”