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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Sealing the deal

By Tony Pizza

After coming within 90 seconds of securing a win in its opening game of the 2007 season, Real Salt Lake will get another opportunity to earn three points at home on Saturday.

Last week RSL played host to FC Dallas, one of the top teams in Major League Soccer in 2006.

Saturday, RSL will welcome the Columbus Crew, which was the worst team in the league a year ago.

Against FC Dallas, RSL got a great look at the potential the team has at midfield this year. In addition to getting great play from veterans Chris Klein, Jason Kreis and Carey Talley, RSL also witnessed how valuable budding pass distributor Mehdi Ballouchy and newcomer Freddy Adu will be this year.

Those five footballers make up a slightly different look than the one RSL employed a year ago.

Instead of attacking teams with a 4-4-2 formation, the addition of Adu allows the team to compete out of a 4-5-1 look. This formation helped RSL in putting two goals on the board against a traditionally tough defensive team in FC Dallas. Despite scoring both goals in the draw and earning MLS-Player-of-the-Week honors, Jeff Cunningham admitted he isn’t entirely comfortable working out of RSL’s current formation yet.

“One of my strengths is facing my defenders and getting isolated, but in this system I’m playing with my back to the goal a lot more,” Cunningham said. “That’s something I feel like I can adjust to and need to improve in.”

Cunningham isn’t the only RSL player going through an adjustment period. Nick Rimando, who is now in his eighth year at the MLS level, looked like a worthy replacement for Scott Garlick in his first game for RSL. Despite giving up two goals — both of which could be blamed on the defense — he showed great reaction to the ball, though he was rarely tested by Dallas.

One positive for RSL is that its posture looks completely different from a year ago. The inexperience and unfamiliarity that the team showed throughout much of last season was virtually nonexistent in its season opener.

Nowhere was this fact more evident than in the way RSL took care of the ball and cut down on turnovers and its opponent’s counter-attack opportunities.

If RSL can continue that trend into its second match of the season, Columbus will be hard-pressed to come away from Salt Lake City with points to show for its effort.

“We’re looking forward to (Columbus), to be honest,” Ballouchy said. “We want to come out with the same energy level and the same passion. It should be a great year for us.”

Columbus scored a league-low 30 goals last year, which averaged out to just one goal per contest. The Crew, however, did nothing to improve its scoring attack during the offseason and went without a goal in its home opener against the New York Red Bulls.

Real Salt Lake will look to open the season unbeaten through the first two games for the first time in its three-year history.

Notes: Out of the six games that were part of MLS’s 2007 First Kick, RSL had 18,678 fans in attendance at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which was the most of any of the six sites?RSL released Utah native Joey Worthen from the team on Wednesday. Worthen made three appearances for RSL in 2006. Worthen went to school at Cottonwood High School. He spent his college soccer days playing for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Lennie Mahler

RSL’s Carrey Talley battles an FC Dallas opponent for the ball Saturday in the season-opening tie at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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