Real Salt Lake’s Jordan Allen will begin his fourth MLS season with a position in the starting XI that is his to lose.
With the unexpected departure of Juan Manuel “Burrito” Martinez in the offseason, the right wing spot in Salt Lake’s attack will be Allen’s to grab hold of.
“It's just a huge opportunity for me,” Allen said. “It’s something I've been building towards, something I'm ready for. The timing is good for me because over the last two years I’ve been pushing on more.”
Even though the opportunity came about in a surprising way, Allen said he felt he was getting there by the end of last season anyway.
“Towards the end of last year, I felt I was competing well enough to be earning more minutes and getting more opportunities.” Allen said, adding that Martinez’s departure didn’t change the way he will be approaching the season.
Of course, Allen isn’t expected to replace Martinez one for one as RSL general manager Craig Waibel called the right wing spot “an evolution” this season. Still, Allen will be expected to score goals, provide assists and apply pressure to the opposition’s backline.
The evolution Waibel referred to will be playing as a team that presses more than they did last season, something the players started working on as soon as they started preseason work.
“It's a mentality thing,” Allen said. “Today was the first day and it was the first thing we worked on. When we turn the ball over our reactions have to be to swarm the ball immediately.”
Allen isn’t too far removed from his days as an outside back and besides the goals and assists that will be expected of him, his work ethic has always served him well on the field.
“I’m always going to work hard,” Allen said. “That’s why I’ve been able to play multiple positions. It’s something I pride myself on.”
While expectations may be for a big season, a true breakout performance isn’t what the team is asking for from Allen.
“I know he can do it, now it’s consistency, staying healthy and that final product, getting the goals, getting the assists,” RSL head coach Jeff Cassar said. “The most important thing is the team does well and Jordan is going to have play on both sides of the ball [for that].
“He doesn’t have to prove anything; he just needs to keep building on what he’s done.”
Allen is showing he’s learning from his previous three seasons, where he has tallied a combined four goals and four assists, but has missed time due to injuries. He took a couple weeks completely off after last season to let his body reset and to refresh mentally.
“That’s something I didn’t do,” Allen said. “So come June my body feels better. It comes from being more experienced.”
Last season, fellow Homegrown Player Justen Glad took his opportunity to cement himself as a starter for RSL. Allen has a similar opportunity in 2017.
“Justen was ready for it last year, the same way I am,” Allen said. “The one good thing I can take from it is if I do show well, the coaches are going to trust me.”
The next iteration of Real Salt Lake’s attack will be at least partly shaped by just how much Allen can evolve into the regular MLS starter he has shown glimpses of in his previous three seasons. It’s a career-making season and Allen and RSL are both hopeful about what that could mean come March.