There is no shortage of attacking talent for Real Salt Lake in 2019. There is also no shortage of questions about how the team will perform this season.
RSL was wildly inconsistent a year ago, backing into the playoffs following back-to-back defeats to the Portland Timbers to end the regular season and then upsetting LAFC in the knockout round on the road before pushing Sporting Kansas City to the brink in the Western Conference semifinals.
They are young and dynamic, especially in the attacking third. The team has reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Corey Baird and two of the most underrated players in MLS, Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnak.
How will Mike Petke manage his highly-talented attacking side? Will there be more consistent performances from the backline and can veterans Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando find the fountain of youth somewhere in the Wasatch Mountains?
And how well will new Designated Player Sam Johnson perform in that attacking group?
There’s work to do, but if Mike Petke can find the right combination in the front four and some overall consistency throughout the squad, the sky is probably the limit for his young RSL squad.
Young, hungry RSL meets Houston Dynamo in opener
When: Saturday, March 2, 6 p.m. ET
Where: BBVA Compass Stadium
Broadcast: TV — KUBE 57, KMYU
Live stream: ESPN+
The buzz: When both teams field first-choice lineups, there’s a stunning array of attacking talent on display — the trio of Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Tomas Martinez on the orange side against any combination of Sam Johnson, Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach, Joao Plata, Corey Baird, Sebastian Saucedo and Jefferson Savarino.
Other key matchups
March 23 at LAFC – The last time RSL played at Banc of California Stadium, they stunned the hosts, ending their impressive inaugural season with a 3-2 win. No one will soon forget Damir Kreilach’s karate-kick goal and its certain LAFC haven’t forgotten the result.
May 11 at Colorado Rapids – Round 1 of the Rocky Mountain Cup, which has been decidedly Claret-and-Cobalt of late, which includes a 6-0 rout at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last August that extended RSL’s Cup run to four straight years.
June 1 at New York Red Bulls – This one figures to be personal for Petke, a club icon and all-time fan favorite when the organization was the MetroStars. He also guided New York to the first of their three Supporters’ Shield titles in six years before being unceremoniously dumped. Suspect the Tifo in the South Ward will be legendary for Petke’s first time back to RBA as the visiting manager.
Check out the full 2019 schedule here
Quotes & Notes
“We have a talented team. It’s a bit more talented,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “Last year, we had a talented team. But the type of team that we are, especially on the road last year, we need equal parts capable players on the ball on the road and equal parts guys who are going to put it in for 90 minutes because that’s ultimately the difference-maker in a league like this.”
“Coming into the league as a Designated Player, there’s a big pressure, but I’m cool with it,” forward Sam Johnson said. “I’m just focused on trying to work hard to make the season a successful one for Salt Lake City.”
“The preseason was excellent,” Damir Kreilach said. “We used every day to be better. Because of that we are very excited for our game on Saturday.”
Biggest offseason moves
- In what might be one of the most low-key Designated Player signings in recent history, Real Salt Lake brought in center forward Sam Johnson in a transfer from Valerenga. There’s plenty of attacking talent on the RSL roster, but Johnson gives Petke the only true No. 9.
- Signed Brazilian defensive midfielder Everton Luiz on a yearlong loan from Serie A club SPAL, bringing a veteran presence to a young core.
Midfielders — Jordan Allen, 23; Corey Baird, 23; Kyle Beckerman, 36; Nick Besler, 25; Damir Kreilach, 29; Everton Luiz, 30; Pablo Ruiz, 20; Albert Rusnak, 24; Sebastian Saucedo, 22; Jefferson Savarino, 22
See full roster details here.