SANDY, Utah — The life of a backup is filled with uncertainty. Minutes often come in bunches, or not at all. You can go months without getting off the bench, then end up playing a crucial final 10 minutes against a heated rival.
In short, you have to be ready for anything. And few in MLS understand that quite as well as Yordany Álvarez, Real Salt Lake's backup defensive midfielder.
Álvarez is stuck behind Kyle Beckerman, one of the league's best and a regular for the US national team under Jurgen Klinsmann. In recent weeks, then, that means Álvarez has become something of a security blanket.
"We feel very good having him because when he joined us last year, it was the first time I ever felt we had a legitimate replacement for Kyle if he wasn't available," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "We were always kind of piecing together that spot, and now I fell confident in putting him out there."
Before leaving for Klinsmann's squad, Beckerman had played every minute of RSL's season, relegating Álvarez to 19 minutes as a substitute in four games.
But with Beckerman away, Álvarez got his chance to show his wares. So far, it's been mixed reviews.
"I thought he had a really strong match against Dallas and then faltered a little bit against Minnesota, as did a lot of our players," said Kreis of Álvarez's two starts, the first in an MLS game and the second in an Open Cup match.
"But he in particular, of those that we asked to play two games in a short span, hasn't done that before, probably hasn't done that since last year when he was in the second division. I think that was a different task. I think going forward if he is asked to do it again, we would probably expect an improved performance in that second match."
Álvarez joined RSL last year from the Orlando City of the USL Pro. He played in five games after his arrival, logging 419 minutes.
According to Kreis, the 27-year-old Cuba is improving, but still has room for even more.
"I think it is tactical awareness of where we want him defensively at certain times and during certain places on the field without the ball," Kreis offered. "With the ball, he's been pretty strong, but I would like to see him be a touch more active, give himself around and present himself as an option to all those players around him. I think he is doing pretty well at both, but he just has to do it on a more consistent basis."
Álvarez is trying to make the best of his situation. And the recent minutes have helped.
"I haven't played that much in awhile, but I'm happy," he recently told MLSsoccer.com. "I'm out here training every day. It was good to play with Dallas, and play with Minnesota, that felt good. But it [does] not matter if I play every game, because I'm happy getting to come out and train with this team.
"When you play everyday with good players you get better," he continued. "With my situation in the back [as a substitute], I just try to play hard when I get to play and try to be ready."
So while it is unlikely Álvarez is going to supplant RSL's captain in the middle, he's got the right attitude toward getting himself ready so that if the situation calls for it, he can fill in, or even play alongside Beckerman.
"I need [to] work hard all the time and have more concentration all the time," said Álvarez. "We have good, good players and that will make me better player."