SANDY, Utah — There are growing pains for nearly all young players at the professional level, something Real Salt Lake defenders Justen Glad and Danilo Acosta know plenty about after their 2018 MLS campaigns.
Glad, who is still only 21 years old despite having 86 league appearances under his belt, had started 50 consecutive MLS matches through the first 32 games of this season, only to lose his place heading into the playoffs, even as Marcelo Silva sat out injured.
“For me obviously, it was a little disappointing,” Glad said. “That’s professional sports. You’ve just got to take the hits as they come and roll with them and continue to get better and be ready for whatever happens.”
Glad came on in the first leg of RSL's Western Conference semifinal against Sporting Kansas City when Silva was forced off with an injury. But he never saw the field in the second leg, which was a surprise to many observers.
Even though coach Mike Petke insisted pregame he had four players from whom to choose two center back starters, most assumed Glad would fill one of those roles.
Kansas City ended up winning the leg 4-2 and the aggregate tie 5-3.
“It’s more motivation,” Glad said. “You play the season to get to the playoffs. Those are the games you want to play in.”
How to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Do the same things he’s been working on since finding himself on the first team five years ago.
“Getting bigger. Getting stronger,” Glad said. “Being clean on the ball, reading the game well, but the big thing for me is getting bigger, getting stronger.”
Meanwhile, Acosta's 2018 season was tumultuous throughout after playing 17 of RSL's final 22 games in 2017. The 20-year-old broke into the starting lineup in late May, starting 10 straight at left back before being overtaken by rookie and natural right back Aaron Herrera.
“It’s not easy at all,” Acosta said. “Coming from last season that I played a lot of games, you for sure get a little frustrated when you’re not in the starting lineup or you’re not playing at all. You’ve got to be patient and stay positive. Once you get your shot take advantage of it.”
Acosta’s problem may not be opportunity as much as making something happen, forcing Petke’s hand to play him.
“Individually, I think I could have done a better job,” Acosta said. “I wish I could have helped the team a lot more. Help them by being in the best position possible.”
Acosta says his focus is similar to Glad's in terms of improving the physical aspects of his performance level. As for the growing pains, that’s all part of learning how to be successful in MLS.
“We’ll get better and better throughout the years. The more we play, the more experience we’ll get, the more easy it will become to play the game. It will take a little bit of time, but we’ll get there,” Acosta said.