New additions adjusting to RSL
Rookies are not the only ones who are spending the preseason getting a
crash course in the Real Salt Lake brand of soccer.
This month and next also mark a fresh start for fifth-year forward Abe
Thompson and third-year defender Rauwshan McKenzie. Both players were
added to the RSL roster in the offseason. Salt Lake claimed Thompson
back in November in the MLS waiver draft after the Houston Dynamo let
him go. And RSL added McKenzie off waivers just a week ago after he was
released by the Kansas City Wizards.
Both players got their first look at their new coaches and teammates
when the Utah side held its first preseason practices in Park City last
week. Now, as Real train in Arizona through the end of the month, both
McKenzie and Thompson are hoping to make a good first impression.
At a minimum, both players are eager to prove they belong with their new
"It's a great opportunity," McKenzie said. "Coming to the defending
champs, you couldn't ask for anything more. I just count my blessings
right now. Hopefully everything works out. I'm going to try my hardest
to make this team."
McKenzie already knows will face some stiff competition in his efforts
to carve out a role on the backline.
The former Michigan State standout played at center back when he was
with the Wizards -- a position already filled in the starting 11 by
veterans Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave. One thing playing in McKenzie's
favor is that he did play at right back for three years with the
Spartans and could likely move over to that spot again for RSL.
Regardless of what transpires, McKenzie feels confident that battling
players like Borchers and Olave for playing time can only help him
elevate his own game.
"Good competition is always great," McKenzie said. "I can do nothing but
learn from good players like that and try improve myself so that maybe I
can put myself in their shoes."
If he can crack the regular defensive rotation, McKenzie offers some
physicality that would fit in with what Olave and Borchers bring to the
pitch. He is strong on the ball and good in the air.
The primary drawback may be his limited playing time with the Wizards.
In two years at Kansas City, McKenzie saw action in just five games --
though he went a full 90 minutes in each one.
Thompson, on the other hand, could get a chance to make a contribution
much quicker. RSL acquired him as part of an effort to fill the void
left up top by the offseason departure of Yura Movsisyan.
In 89 MLS games, Thompson has notched 15 goals and 12 assists. His best
season came in 2007 with FC Dallas. That season, he tallied a
career-high five goals and four assists while appearing in 24 games and
making 15 starts.
When Thompson finished his college career at Maryland, he had scored 43
goals and dished out 26 assists. He hopes to bring a similar nose for
the ball to RSL this season. And Thompson hopes that he can help fill
the absence of Movsisyan.
"I know he was a big contributor for them last season and in seasons
previous to last season," Thompson said. "The best I can do is try and
help (continue) the contributions he made for the team."
Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis likes what he has seen from the newcomers
early in the preseason. Fitting them in should be made easier by the
fact that much of the core group that contributed to the success of RSL a
year ago remains in the fold.
It continues the continuity that Kreis first sought to achieve when he
was elevated to head coach back in 2007.
"This, for me, is the third year of having this group together and this,
for me, should be the most successful year we've had," Kreis said.
Both Thompson and McKenzie are determined to play a part in helping
their new team build on its MLS Cup winning season in 2010.
"We're trying to defend the title that they won last season," Thompson
said. "I know that all the other teams when they look at Salt Lake,
there's a target on our back. My job is to help defend the title that
was won last season."