Thoughts From the Pitch: RSL Draws Third Straight Match


Jack Gambassi

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath (18) after conceding a goal versus Minnesota United FC at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah on May 29, 2021. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Brian Preece, Sports Writer


Surrounded by ownership uncertainty and fears that the franchise may seek greener pastures and leave the Utah market, the claret and cobalt clad RSL remains focused on the 2021 campaign.

Last season was a rollercoaster for Real Salt Lake. COVID-19 forced a pause to the season on March 12 and it did not continue until July. When the season did pick up again, RSL struggled mightily, finishing the season 5-7-10. Defensively, RSL was in the middle of the pack, allowing 35 goals, but could not overcome an anemic offense that scored a Western-Conference-low 25 goals in 22 games, including nine shutouts.

Off the field, allegations of racist remarks made by owner Dell Loy Hansen and sub-standard treatment of team personnel surfaced in late August. Former RSL player and one-time head scout Andy Williams claimed Hansen used racist terms and joked about racist actions towards an opposing player.

Amid the uncertainty of the franchise’s future, RSL entered the 2021 season with low expectations from much of the national media. The departure of Corey Baird to rival LAFC and the retirement of longtime captain Kyle Beckerman left RSL projected 26th of 27 teams in the MLS preseason power rankings.

Fortunately for RSL and its fans, games aren’t played on paper, and preseason predictions don’t amount to much once teams get on the pitch. Real got out to a fast start early in the season with a 2-1 win on the road against Minnesota United and a 3-1 victory over Western Conference rival Sporting KC in the first match of the season at Rio Tinto Stadium, affectionately known as “The RioT.”

Through five games, RSL has shown an improved offensive attack led by Rubio Rubin’s four goals. Damir Kreilach and Anderson Julio also have two goals apiece. In net, RSL Academy and homegrown star David Ochoa leads RSL as he tries to fill the shoes of former RSL keeper and Utah Sports Hall of Fame inductee Nick Rimando. 

Ochoa has already matched Rimando in one respect as he earned a call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team as they prepare to face No. 13 Switzerland on May 30. This is Ochoa’s first national team appearance after having previously played for the U.S. at the U-18, U-20 and U-23 levels.

“It’s been a long process,” Ochoa said. “I still remember being 15 years old and I was in the [RSL] academy and what I wanted to do was to play for the first team and play with the senior national team. To see where I am now, I’m very happy because it’s where I want to be.”

With just two games scheduled between now and June 18, RSL expects to be without Ochoa for a limited period of time.

After suffering their only defeat of the season at the hands of the San Jose Earthquakes, RSL forced a scoreless draw against Nashville and a 2-2- tie in Dallas last Saturday. Real has their sights set on the same Minnesota team they have already beaten this season. Minnesota currently sits second to last in a difficult Western Conference, 2-4 on the year. 

Thoughts from the Pitch

Lack of an attack: Neither team could generate consistent offensive pressure. Minnesota was unable to get a shot on frame until a 78’ goal scored by Niko Hansen, assisted by Chase Gasper. The shot was knocked down by keeper Tyler Miller, but he was unable to corral the ball and it just crossed the line, tying the score at 1.

RSL’s defense was solid but Minnesota shot themselves in the foot more than they were stopped by the defense. RSL was able to create more offensive opportunities than their opponent, but struggled to convert on the attack outside of the Damir Kreilach 13’ goal, assisted by Aaron Herrera.

Getting aggressive late: RSL started to push forward in the final 20 minutes. This aggressive approach led to several scoring opportunities which Real was unable to convert. It also led to the only Minnesota goal on a counterattack.

Reinforcements: At halftime, RSL announced an international signing. Jonathan “Jony” Menéndez from Club Atlético Independiente (Argentina), a 10-year veteran of Argentina’s first division, will join the club on a three-year deal. Menendez has scored 20 goals and notched 10 assists in 70 matches. 

“We are incredibly excited to add a player of Jony’s quality and experience to our roster,” RSL General Manager Elliot Fall said. “He will provide us another dynamic attacking option across our frontline. His ability on the ball and in combination will complement our roster seamlessly.”


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