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jeremy horton

16 July 3:26 pm

In case you didn't notice, the 2013 MLS All-Star team was announced on Monday, with the game taking place on July 31st in Kansas City. With the announcement of the team - headed by Kansas City coach Peter Vermes - there follows inevitable hand-wringing from pundits about snubs - players who deserved to make the All-Star team but didn't.

Some snubs that immediately come to mind are RSL's Ned Grabavoy, LA's Marcelo Sarvas, and Philadelphia's Jack McInerney, but they aren't the biggest surprises. While Vermes did RSL fans a solid by naming Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, and Kyle Beckerman to the team, the omission of Javier Morales shocked me the most, and his snub is the subject of this post. Nothing I can write is going to get Morales added to the roster, but it does provide the opportunity to recognize a player who is having a phenomenal year.

How good has Morales' year been so far? Consider this: His five goals are tied with Olmes Garcia for the team lead, and his eight assists are far and away the most on the team. At this pace, he'll finish the season with nine goals and 15 assists. In 2009, Morales had one goal and five assists. In 2010, Morales had seven goals and nine assists. Why did I choose 2009 and 2010 as points of reference? Because Javi made the All-Star team both those years.

Granted, 2009 and 2010 were different times in MLS. It seems that lately more teams have seen the value in a true No. 10 and more teams have spent money on that position. So clearly the bar is higher for Morales than it was back in those days.

But in spite of all the young talent and big-name players that now quarterback offenses; the evidence suggests that Morales is still at the top of the class. As mentioned above, Morales has scored five goals and dished out eight dimes so far this year. New York's Tim Cahill has five goals and three assists. Portland (and ex-RSL) man Will Johnson stands at six and three. KC's Graham Zusi is on four and five, Houston's Brad Davis has three and three, and Montreal's Patrice Bernier has two and five. All five of those midfielders made the All-Star team while Javier Morales did not. I'm not implying that these players don't deserve to be on the team; they have all had fine seasons. But after you look at these numbers you can't tell me that there's not room for a player who has produced the way Javi has.

Aside from just the raw numbers, Morales continues to do all the little things that make RSL a winner. Integrating so many new, young faces into the squad is a daunting task, one that usually takes teams’ considerable time. RSL struggled a bit in the early going as most of us expected, but lately they've been on a well-publicized tear. This doesn't happen without veteran leaders integrating the locker room and getting the new talent to buy in to what's being taught. Morales is an instrumental figure in the RSL locker room, especially serving as a bridge between the American and Latino players, and his efforts in that regard are one reason why RSL currently sits at the top of the league table.

It's true that All-Star games are more of a popularity contest than a legitimate selection of the best players, but they also serve as a form of recognition within the MLS community; a form of recognition that Morales certainly deserves this season. 

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

25 June 10:07 am

As fun as it's been to be a part of RSL's scintillating run of form in MLS play as of late, it's time to put that on hold for a few days. That's because a huge opportunity is knocking for the Claret-and-Cobalt this week: Their Quarterfinal matchup in the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. On Wednesday RSL will host the NASL's Carolina Railhawks at Rio Tinto Stadium with a trip to the Semifinals against either the Portland Timbers or FC Dallas on the line. Real has talked about the emphasis being put on the tournament this year - talk which has been backed up by strong lineups thus far - and this game will be no different. Expect RSL to trot out its best available lineup for this one, in spite of this being the team's second of four matches in just 12 days. And if you're Jason Kreis, that makes sense when you consider the following:

  • RSL is only three wins away from getting the CONCACAF Champion's League berth that goes to the winner of the U.S. Open Cup. When you consider the various paths that lead to a Champion's League spot, at the moment this one is by far the easiest.
  • The stars seems to be lining up for RSL. It's almost like some unearthly force wants Salt Lake to win the Cup. Kreis is fond of saying "fortune favors the bold", but sometimes fortune just favors the fortunate. Real has played all three of their Open Cup matches at home, and if they win, they will also host the Semifinal match. While the odds of winning a coin flip (which is how match venues are determined in the USOC) are 1 out of 2, the odds of winning four straight coin flips like RSL just did are only 1 out of 16. On top of that, Salt Lake also has yet to face an MLS opponent in Open Cup play.
  • The Quarterfinals is the farthest RSL have ever advanced in this tournament. A win on Wednesday would break new ground for the franchise.

As I wrote last week, any fan who hasn't experienced a U.S. Open match needs to get down to the stadium for this one. Both teams are going to be highly motivated since a win gets them two wins away from hoisting the trophy and their next match would be at home. Carolina will be a decided underdog against the MLS league leaders, but don't underestimate the RailHawks - they've done well in the tournament before and have already sent Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy packing this year. Carolina's roster is loaded with ex-MLS talent and plenty of young MLS players on loan, and their coach Colin Clarke is a familiar face in MLS circles, heading up FC Dallas from 2003-2006.

For RSL's part, fielding a strong lineup means they will be anxious to take command of the match early and not give Carolina a chance to get a late equalizer or winner. If a criticism can be made of RSL's Open Cup run so far, it's that both previous matches against lower-division opponents have gone to extra time. RSL eventually showed their quality in those matches, but they made for tense moments and extra work to be done. With four games in 12 days, Kreis won't be eager to see his team put in 120 minutes on Wednesday - strong emphasis will be placed and getting ahead and not allowing a comeback.

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

20 June 3:47 pm

If you're anything like me, when things in the soccer world are going well, life just seems to be a little bit better. It's hard not to leave Rio Tinto Stadium with a smile when your team earns three well-deserved points. If it seems like your post-game walk to the car has often been a happy one lately, that's because it has - teams that call Rio Tinto Stadium home have been extraordinarily successful as of late. Consider the following:

  • RSL is on fire in MLS play right now. Since the beginning of May, the Claret-and-Cobalt have collected a league-best 16 points in just 7 matches. Along the way they've found the back of the net a whopping 17 times. At home they've taken 10 of a possible 12 points with a goal differential of +7.
  • While all that MLS action was going down, RSL also managed to find success in U.S. Open Cup play. May/June saw two home contests, both won by RSL, both against lower-division foes, though it wasn't easy as both games went into extra time before Salt Lake could secure the victories. As in MLS play, goals have been plentiful for Real in the USOC as they've managed to score eight times in those two matches, with five of those goals coming in 60 total minutes of extra time played.
  • The weather wasn't all that was hot on Tuesday night as the U.S. Men's National Team continued their torrid run of form in dispatching Honduras 1-0 in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. The U.S. men started their streak of good results on June 2 with a thumping of world soccer power Germany 4-3 in a final tuneup before three straight World Cup Qualifiers. After that they took their show on the road in Jamaica where a dramatic stoppage-time goal by Brad Evans gave the Red, White, and Blue three crucial road points. All eyes then focused on Seattle where the Nats easily handled Panama with perhaps their best showing in the last few years, setting the stage for this week's victory at Rio Tinto. That win was the U.S.'s fourth straight, giving the team all nine possible points in World Cup qualifying in June. With six games down and four to go, the U.S. is now in command of The Hex from the top of the table, two points ahead of Costa Rica and five points clear of Mexico. It's not over until it's over, but thanks to the current hot streak we all got to be a part of, the U.S. is a virtual lock for the 2014 World Cup.

It's interesting to note that the U.S. men and Real Salt Lake have found their recent success by different means. For the U.S. team, their success has come from stability - for the first time in a long time, lineups and player personnel decisions were consistent. For RSL, their success has come from versatility - with the crowded schedule, injuries, and international absences, most of the roster has seen minutes in MLS and/or U.S. Open Cup play. For the U.S. team, their scoring load has been shouldered by Jozy Altidore who has scored in all four of the States' recent wins, while for RSL, their scoring load has been spread far and wide - nine different players have scored since the start of May. This goes to show that what two teams need to be successful are not necessarily the same. It also illustrates the difference between a cluster of three games followed by a long break (where consistency is needed) vs. the constant grind of a nine-month MLS season (where flexibility is needed).

If you've missed out on these red-hot teams in their various competitions, don't fret - both clubs will be back at Rio Tinto shortly.

  • RSL has three MLS home games in the next month, starting this Saturday with Seattle paying a visit. This is a great chance for RSL to continue their strong run in league play while climbing the table and also putting some distance between them and a Western Conference foe.
  • Real will be contesting their U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal match at home next Wednesday against Carolina. If you've never given the USOC a chance, this would be a good time to see what it's all about. We've seen two good matches already, but the U.S. Open Cup gets even more compelling starting now as teams realize that they're only a couple of wins away from a CONCACAF Champions League berth. You will see playoff-atmosphere soccer in this one, especially considering the winner hosts a USOC Semifinal against Portland or Dallas.
  • The U.S. men will be back to Rio Tinto on July 13 for a Gold Cup tilt against Cuba. Granted, this won't be the strongest team the U.S. is capable of fielding, but it gives us a look at some up-and-coming players on the national scene. Nothing is for certain but this game could have a couple RSL players featuring prominently while the likes of Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey get a well-deserved vacation. Plus it's still high-level international soccer; if you haven't experienced international soccer, it has a unique vibe to it. Everyone needs to be a part of something like this at least once.

We've been blessed with lots of great soccer - and great teams - at Rio Tinto Stadium recently, and it's not over yet. See you out here!

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

03 June 4:25 pm

One criticism Real Salt Lake faced last season was that the team seemed too dependent on Alvaro Saborio to score. The Costa Rican international scored 39 percent of RSL’s goals in 2012, an undeniably huge portion – and one that was too big for some.

If you're a team with one player carrying too much of the load, it can really throw things for a loop if the player takes a step back in form or gets injured. So when Saborio went down with an injury at the end of April, many people – including me – thought RSL would struggle to score goals and win games. Well, six weeks later, we've been proven wrong.

Since the beginning of May, RSL has amassed 13 points in just six league matches, tied for the best mark in MLS. The team has stepped it up defensively, conceding just one goal a game in that time. But lest you think it's only the defense that's leading to results, in those same six matches RSL is hanging 2.33 goals per game on its opponents, with Sabo only playing 28 minutes since April. In the midst of all that, RSL also put up a U.S. Open Cup win. Here are a couple of points on scoring that have stood out to me this year - and especially recently - that have RSL poised to do very well through the rest of 2013:

  • There are plenty of scoring chances being generated. RSL leads MLS by a country mile in shots on goal with 88 - that's a whopping 20 shots more than second place FC Dallas.
  • Nine RSL players have already scored in league play this year. In 2012, only 10 players scored all year. RSL should easily surpass that number - I expect Khari Stephenson and Sebastian Velasquez will open their accounts soon, and the center backs are due to poke home a set piece one of these games.
  • Speaking of sharing the wealth, as I mentioned above, Sabo scored almost 40 percent of RSL's goals last year. This year he's only scored 20% of them. And it's not like the overall team production is down - RSL 2013 is on pace to outscore the 2012 edition.
  • All five strikers on the roster have scored this year. The four not named Saborio have all scored in the last six games.
  • On an individual level, Ned Grabavoy has already matched his career-best for goals in a season and we're not even halfway through the year.
  • Javier Morales is still dynamic. He’s already matched his scoring total – three – from last year and his assist number is right on last season’s pace.

I attribute the offensive success this year - and most notably over the last six matches - to two things: First, a strong commitment by attacking players to put themselves into spots where they can score. Jason Kreis alluded to this in his postgame press conference last Saturday night by saying that RSL struggles to score when they don't get enough numbers in the penalty box. Second, I think the superior depth of the 2013 squad has caused everyone to raise their game, especially in training. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you train at a higher level, you tend to play at a higher level. The fierce competition for minutes has certainly been effective in that regard.

There's still a lot of soccer left to be played, but all signs point to this team being one of the few that will be right in the thick of things at the very end.

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

27 May 7:07 pm

When Real Salt Lake takes the field against the Atlanta Silverbacks in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, they won't be treating it like a glorified friendly. RSL hasn't seen great success in America's oldest soccer tournament, but they are determined to finally make an impact. Last season was a new low: At home, in front of one of the largest crowds to ever witness an Open Cup match, RSL crashed out of the tournament 3-1 at the hands of NASL's Minnesota Stars. This week, team coaches and management have expressed their displeasure with last year's Open Cup performance.

"I think our coach set the tone," said general manager Garth Lagerwey. "That was possibly the worst game of his coaching tenure at RSL. We have to do better. If we want to advance, it starts Tuesday."

The message from last year's disappointment has apparently made its way down to the players. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was not with the team in 2012, joked with reporters that he "hasn't heard anything about" the Stars debacle.

Sebastian Velasquez was a rookie last year, and he had plenty to say about what's going to be different this time around.

"We're coming in different from last year," the player said. "I feel like maybe we didn't take it as serious as we should have. Last year it seemed like our minds weren't in it."

The lack of seriousness last year can be attributed to a bit of complacency that came with facing an NASL opponent. Today the loss serves as a reminder that anyone can beat anyone, regardless of division.

"If you come in and think, 'this is a minor-league team; they're not as talented are we are,' that's how you get tripped up," said Lagerwey.

Head Coach Jason Kreis is the kind of coach who's not going to let his team make the same mistake two years in a row, so it stands to reason that his squad won't be complacent as they take on the Silverbacks.

Several other factors could also help spur on RSL this Tuesday: They have a guaranteed home match in the fourth round if they win, another good crowd is expected on Tuesday, player resources aren't stretched thinner by CONCACAF Champion's League dates, and the squad is noticeably deeper this time around.

"The thing about this team is that any guy that gets put out there is going to give the same performance as a regular starter," said Velasquez. "I think everybody's ready to play, everybody's ready to get minutes, everybody's ready to show the coach that we're on this team for a reason."

The favorable schedule in the tournament, the depth of the squad, and the painful lessons learned last year have Real Salt Lake aiming for big things in a competition they haven't traditionally done well in.

"We're ready, we're focused, we're ready to come out tomorrow and move to the next round," said Velasquez. "This year we want to win the Cup."

Click here to access the official Game Guide to Tuesday's RSL-Atlanta contest.

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

21 May 1:42 pm

It's been an exciting couple of days for Major League Soccer - my Twitter feed has been replete with words like "NYC", "Queens", "Yankees", "$400 million", "oil baron", and other words synonymous with big money. But for a moment, I'd like to talk about a subject that might be the soccer opposite of the New York expansion news: Ned Grabavoy. Real Salt Lake fans know better than most what Grabavoy's game is all about: Honest, hard work on both sides of the ball. He's rarely in the headlines. He's rarely in the spotlight. He's rarely up for Goal of the Week. What you get from "Grabs" is a solid, consistent effort, tidy possession, and hard tackles.

But this week the media is all abuzz with Grabavoy news, thanks to his two goals that led to RSL's lighting-up of Chivas USA on Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Don't get me wrong - it's a remarkable story to be sure. To put it in perspective, Grabavoy is in his 10th year in MLS and he has scored 10 goals. In other words, a ten-year veteran added 20% to his career goal total in 90 minutes. That's headline-worthy stuff, but I don't want to let the goals overshadow the rest of his game, because Sunday night Grabavoy was very, very good.

Take a look at Ned's passing chalkboard against Chivas. Ignore the completion percentage (more on that later) and ask yourself where most of his passes came from. The answer is, everywhere! This is what a box-to-box midfielder does - he covers all the length and width he can, helping in possession when his team has the ball and looking to win the ball back when his team doesn't. Speaking of winning the ball, Grabavoy was extraordinarily effective at that versus Chivas: His five tackles won were second-most on the team, just one behind Chris Wingert. Most of us probably would have expected that honor to belong to one of the other fullbacks or maybe Kyle Beckerman. But on Sunday, it was Grabavoy who did most of the midfield ball-winning for RSL.

Grabavoy also had RSL's best pass completion rate with 36 of 43 (83.7 percent) passes completed. That's no easy task on this team - Beckerman has lead MLS in this category for the last 2.5 seasons. Normally 84% isn't a great number, so why was it the best mark in this game? Well, the answer has everything to do with how Chivas chose to play defense. Their always-entertaining coach "Chelis" Sola elected to compress all his players into the smallest possible area in order to disrupt RSL's passing game. Honestly, it worked well; with the playable area of the field so small, every time an RSL player received a pass there he had a Chivas player nipping at his heels before he could line up a good pass. That led to a lot of incomplete passes. However, we also saw the downside of Chivas' defensive scheme: It left a lot of room behind the defense for attackers to use to run onto through balls, something Salt Lake players did with success all night (including Grabavoy, obviously).

It's a remarkable night when any RSL player nets a brace, but I would be remiss if I let Ned Grabavoy's goals overshadow his excellent overall performance on both sides of the ball.

former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

16 April 2:35 pm

We're now seven games into Real Salt Lake's 2013 campaign and there hasn't been a shortage of things to talk about. Road trips, questionable PK's, Saborio's form, Morales and Wingert and Borchers coming back from injury, the new-look midfield, poor playing surfaces, and oh-my-goodness-Olmes-that-was-amazing have all been worthy topics of discussion. But one topic is perhaps getting lost in the shuffle, and I want to bring it to the forefront: Nick Rimando - who won two Governor's State of Sport Awards on Tuesday - is having an absolutely fantastic start to the year. 

In six matches played (Josh Saunders played on March 23 at FC Dallas while Rimando was on international duty), Rimando has only allowed five goals, giving him a goals-against average (GAA) of 0.83. This is a good number by anyone's standard, but honestly I've never liked GAA as a measurement of the quality of a goalkeeper because the defense has a lot to do with GAA. For example, Carlo Cudicini of the Galaxy has a slightly better GAA than Rimando because he has an outstanding defense in front of him - Cudicini has faced less than half as many shots as Rimando has.

A better way to examine the quality of your goalkeeper is to look at save percentage - the number of saves made divided by the number of shots on goal. By the time a shot is on its way to goal the defense is out of the equation and it's goalkeeper vs. ball. Here's where Rimando really shines: His save percentage of 82 percent puts him at No. 1 in MLS among all goalkeepers who have played at least three games. What this tells us is Rimando is having a remarkable year when it comes to stopping shots – 82 percent is by far his best save percentage ever and a whopping 14 percent better than his career average.

So what does this mean on the field? Well, it means that when one of RSL's opponents gets a shot on frame, Nicky is more likely to save it than any other goalkeeper. The issue for RSL at the moment is slowing down the total number of shots on goal; only Chivas USA have surrendered more shots on goal than Salt Lake. I think the reasons for this boil down to two things: First, injuries on the back line and a high amount of lineup turnover related to that, and second, the unbalanced schedule that has seen RSL play five of seven on the road. On the road, opponents are more likely to pin their ears back and attack with abandon, knowing that three points at home is almost a must if you plan to keep up in this league.

I expect the number of shots on goal RSL is facing to decrease as defenders get healthy and the home/away schedule starts to get balanced out over the next two months. This, combined with Nick Rimando's torrid shot-stopping form this season, means we have good reason to believe RSL will be putting up a lot of clean sheets in the near future.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

01 April 2:44 pm

When I got home from RSL’s 2-1 win over Seattle on Saturday night, I was talking about rookie forward Devon Sandoval's excellent outing so much that my wife accused me of having a "man crush" on him.

I laughed it off at the time, but now that I've had some time to think about it, you were right, dear. I do have a “man-crush.”

I think RSL fans realize that Sandoval had a nice night in his first-ever start, but I think it was better than most people realized. In fact, for me he would have been Man of the Match had it not been for Seattle goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who I thought was the best player on the field despite conceding twice. On Saturday I thought Sandoval did what we expected and even more, and did it with a calmness that defies his age and experience. So what was so great about Sandoval's game?

I usually leave these tactical chats in the capable hands of Matt Montgomery, but take a look at the chalkboard to the right. Here you can see Sandoval's entire night from a passing perspective - all 22 successful passes and his six unsuccessful passes.

Take a look at his passes that originated from between about 35 and 55 yards from goal; almost all of them are "negative" (i.e. backward) passes. This is exactly what you want and expect your target-style forward to do. Almost all these passes are long balls sent up field by defenders from deep in RSL's end. In these cases the target forward puts his back to the goal, holds the defender at bay, settles the ball, and makes a backward pass to a midfielder who probably doesn't have a man draped all over him. Looking at Sandoval's high completion percentage on these back passes, clearly he met expectations in that aspect of his game.

Next, take a look at his passes that originated from 35 yards out and closer; you can see that most of these passes are going forward, not backward. These mostly came from times when RSL was advancing on goal with numerous attackers, and this is where Sandoval went above and beyond in my opinion. Many target forwards - especially young ones - aren't comfortable attempting incisive passes and joining in combination play with teammates. But instead of being a one-trick pony who only wants to play "post-up" soccer and lay off back passes, Sandoval's passing around goal clearly shows that he is plenty comfortable acting as a playmaker. You don't often see this behavior with big forwards, especially ones so young.

A great example of this is his combination with Ned Grabavoy and Joao Plata on Plata's 55th-minute chance. Grabavoy plays a pass into Sandoval who is holding position with his back to goal. But instead of playing a back pass right back to Grabavoy, Sandoval flicks a forward pass into space where Plata runs onto it for an open look. The only thing that kept Sandoval from recording a beautiful assist was Gspurning's face getting in the way of Plata's shot.

Sandoval's finishing left a bit to be desired on Saturday night - it will come around - but I am really excited about his passing game and what it's doing to open things up for the rest of the team.

21 March 12:02 pm

With the proliferation of soccer-specific stadiums around the country, U.S. Soccer has more options than ever when it comes to hosting important matches on American soil. Today's announcement from U.S. Soccer that Rio Tinto Stadium will host the USA vs. Honduras in a CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying match - on top of another U.S. Men's National Team appearance during the Gold Cup - solidifies the notion that Sandy is one of the most coveted destinations for our national team.

So why does U.S. Soccer smile so brightly upon Utah, which is the country's smallest soccer market? Quite simply, it's about one thing: Home field advantage.

Historically, the Salt Lake area has shown some of the most pro-U.S. crowds anywhere - this is key when it comes to putting opponents at a disadvantage. We all hear the stories of the kinds of partisan crowds the U.S. faces when they go on the road in CONCACAF, and the crowd at Rio Tinto is the closest we in the U.S. come to paying back the favor. "When we ask the question 'where is the biggest support for us throughout the country?,' Salt Lake always comes up in that discussion," said U.S. men's head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "It has been proven in the past that this is another venue where we can rock the boat."

The results bear out Klinsmann's sentiments. The U.S. National Teams - all ages and genders - are a combined 4-0-0 in Salt Lake City, including two victories for the men in two previous World Cup Qualifiers. They beat Costa Rica 3-0 in 2005 at Rice-Eccles Stadium and El Salvador 2-1 at Rio Tinto in 2009.

On top of the crowd support, the 4400-foot altitude tends to work in the U.S.'s favor, and it should again in June when they face a Honduras team that plays its home games at 250 feet above sea level. If the U.S. can get an early lead and force Honduras to chase the ball, the visitors will be at the mercy of Sandy's thin air.

Of the World Cup Qualifiers we've hosted here in Utah, this one is shaping up to be the most crucial to the U.S. Honduras currently sits at the top of the table in the hexagonal, having just beaten the U.S. in Honduras, and they are one of the favorites to qualify for next year's World Cup. Depending on what happens between now and then, the match at Rio Tinto could be a make-or-break game for the U.S. if they want to qualify for Brazil 2014.

If the past is any indication, if you're the U.S. and you're facing a must-win game, then this really is the place.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.

18 March 3:18 pm

It was interesting to watch RSL wheel and deal this offseason – GM Garth Lagerwey and Head Coach Jason Kreis jettisoned a few high-priced players and in return tried to create competition at every position.

By all indications they did a very good job at building that depth, to the point that RSL color commentator Brian Dunseth called the Claret-and-Cobalt the deepest team in MLS. Thanks to injuries and family matters, RSL’s bench has been tested plenty already this season, and while the results haven't been perfect, they haven't been bad either. The depth will get its biggest test of the young  season on Saturday at Dallas, thanks to national team call-ups hitting RSL hard as World Cup qualifying hits full stride this weekend.

Tony Beltran, Nick Rimando, and Kyle Beckerman have been called on by Jurgen Klinsmann to represent the Stars-and-Stripes. They'll be facing off on Friday against their RSL teammate and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio. Finally, Abdoulie Mansally is making the long trip back to Africa to join his native Gambia.

No other MLS team was hit as hard as RSL, and when combined with the current spate of injuries, RSL could be down as many as 11 players going to Dallas. So while national team call-ups are a great reward and a source of pride to players, the timing is going to leave their club in a bit of a lurch.

These call-ups are peppered around the field and cause concern in almost every positional group, but RSL's depth should help mitigate some of the risks. RSL probably has the best backup goalkeeper in the league with Josh Saunders; Nat Borchers played in the last reserve match - and looked good, I might add - and if he can start it will help Claret-and-Cobalt cover for Tony Beltran; Lovel Palmer has done well at outside back; and Yordany Alvarez is a more than capable replacement for Beckerman.

The biggest question is who is going to fill in for Saborio. Rookie forward Devon Sandoval is physically able to stand in for him, and the pairing of Findley and Plata is a possibility, but so far nobody has been able to step up and take the scoring load from Sabo. Someone is going to have to do it if RSL hopes to get its first win in Texas.

Here's my guess at RSL's starting lineup for Saturday based on the assumptions I've made above (L to R):

Saunders; Palmer, Borchers, Watson-Siriboe, Schuler; Alvarez; Gil, Grabavoy; Velasquez; Findley, Plata

Bench: Attinella, Maund, Martinez, Grossman, Stertzer, Sandoval, Garcia

The injuries and call-ups haven't created an ideal situation for RSL by any means, but considering the circumstances, that's not a bad lineup. And that's exactly what Kreis and Lagerwey were after during those long winter months.

A former RSL beat reporter for multiple outlets, Jeremy Horton is a regular contributor to RealSaltLake.com and helps cover the team for ESPN 700 AM.