SANDY, Utah — To say Real Salt Lake have had issues with injuries and absences this season is an understatement. They haven't played a single MLS game with what would likely be regarded as their starting 11, and Saturday’s contest against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium (9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) will be no exception.
“At one point, I looked at it and projected that we’d have three goalkeepers in our 18,” head coach Jason Kreis said at training this week. “I think that may not be the case now. Maybe one [available] player will be left off the 18, and that will probably be the third goalkeeper.”
It’s for that reason that Kyle Beckerman was asked to stay behind from duty with the US national team for Friday's matchup against Costa Rica in order to help the ailing and absent midfield for his squad.
However, even with Beckerman’s inclusion, it appears RSL will be missing six of their first 11 against the Union.
To put that in perspective, the team has only missed more than four of their regulars once this season, and that was on April 9 in New England when RSL chose to go with a largely reserve lineup after a key midweek Champions League match at Saprissa in Costa Rica. In that game at Gillette Stadium, Kreis fielded a lineup without seven of his best 11.
In total, RSL have missed three or more of their starters in 13 of their 24 matches.
“'Extraordinary' is about the right word,” said Kreis of the difficult season that his team has experienced. “It’s such a trying season for us as coaches to try to get through all of these injuries, and international call-ups and suspensions.”
That pain has also been felt by the players who have been left behind, particularly the younger ones.
“It’s been difficult on the players because we’ve been relying on some guys that you don’t expect to be every week contributors — that probably aren’t ready to be every week contributors — are thrust into a position where our fate is kind of in their hands," said Kreis.
"Yes, the results have been up and down, but that’s expected of young players being asked to do a lot. So I don’t look at that as a negative for them. I look at that as a positive. They’re gaining experience and they’re becoming better players as we go here. In the end, we’re going to benefit for that.”
The good news is that while Saturday's match will be a high point for missing starters for the season, there is relief potentially on the horizon. In addition to four international call-ups returning, Ned Grabavoy (above) is expected to make his return either this week or next, and Chris Wingert and Javier Morales are likely a few weeks behind that.
“To have everybody healthy — all 11 starters back on the field — would be just phenomenal,” said defender Nat Borchers after a fitness session on Thursday. “Hopefully, we would be able to get a good run with that group and be able to hit that stride come MLS Cup time.”