SANDY, Utah – With the US national team advancing to the knockout round of the the World Cup, Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman will miss at least a couple more MLS matches. Maybe more, depending on whether the USMNT can beat Belgium on Tuesday (4 pm ET, ESPN).
And that means that Cole Grossman will be in Beckerman's spot in the RSL lineup – holding down the back of the diamond midfield formation. His next game will likely be on Saturday, when the team travels to Carson, Calif. to take on Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET, MLS Live).
He's gotten good reviews from his coach and his teammates, but Grossman is not satisfied with his part in the team's performance – 0-2-2 in the last four league games and an embarrassing loss to lower-division Atlanta in US Open Cup play.
“It's a really difficult position,” Grossman told reporters. “But I think, ultimately, in that position you're judged on … how the team plays. So from that aspect, the team hasn't played very well. A lot of that falls on my shoulders regardless of how well I feel I played individually.”
Veteran defender Chris Wingert strongly disagreed.
“I think he's been excellent. I know that the guys are bummed because of the results, which is understandable, but Cole, for me, has been outstanding.”
Still, it isn't easy to step in for a guy who's played every minute for the USMNT in Brazil in three group stage games.
“Whenever you're getting compared to Kyle, it's tough,” RSL head coachoach Jeff Cassar told reporters. “But I think Cole's done a very good job. And I think he's still learning what he needs to do in that position. I'd rather have him do his best of his ability rather than trying to do more than he's capable of.”
Holding down the diamond is a position few players have a lot of experience playing.
“No one really plays the diamond,” Grossman said. “A couple of teams have tried it, but it's not a formation that really exists around MLS. I haven't really played it, but I've played a lot of center-midfield and there's enough similarities that it's not that different. It is different in some ways, it's a very unique position.”
And with Beckerman rarely being off the field when he's not away with the USMNT – and Grossman missing time nursing injuries – the back-up hasn't gotten to spend a lot of time playing when the regular starter is around.
“It's all playing,” Grossman said. “It's just about games. You can't learn nearly as much from watching as you can from playing.”
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It isn't just playing the position fans are accustomed to seeing Beckerman play. The general unsettled state of RSL's lineup hasn't helped matters.
“The hardest thing is, because we're so shorthanded, I'm playing with different guys every game behind me,” Grossman said. “That's hard for anybody.”
“It's not about filling Kyle's shoes,” Wingert said. “It's just about being himself. Cole's going to play the role differently from Kyle … and anybody else who plays in there. And we can be successful with all those different looks.”
More successful than RSL has been its last five games.
To be honest, I just think I feel like right now we need to do [Beckerman] some justice and get some points here,” Grossman said. “And, I think, going forward we'll just try to learn from the past couple of games what we didn't do well and we'll come out flying Saturday.”