LEHI — Real Salt Lake's three-man rotation at outside back the past couple years has worked wonderfully.
Between Chris Wingert, Tony Beltran and Robbie Russell, there's been tremendous continuity in the lineup as two of the three have started every MLS and Champions League match dating back to the start of the 2009 season.
For nearly three years, the trio of defenders avoided getting injured or suspended at the same time, but the impressive streak of 102 straight games is about to end.
This weekend, Real Salt Lake hosts Kansas City with only one available outside back. Beltran is suspended because of the red card picked up in Seattle, while Wingert is still recovering from a broken wrist suffered Oct. 13. That leaves Russell as the last torch-bearer in what has been a consistent strength for RSL the past three years.
If Wingert had his way, he'd be back in the starting lineup this weekend. Despite wearing a hard cast on his left arm from his hand to the bottom of his elbow, Wingert trained with the team on Tuesday without limitations and said he felt great.
That won't be good enough to change the medical staff's mind, though.
"To me, I feel like I can play, but I guess in the long run I've got to trust the doc's orders. It's a little frustrating, but it's just the way it is. I'm trying to be patient," said Wingert. "Guys play with casts all the time, but (the doctor) is just afraid that even with the cast if I fall on it wrong it could break again and then obviously be set back and surgically repaired."
Without Wingert or Beltran, RSL coach Jason Kreis has some tough decisions to make about who to start opposite Russell along the backline.
He could start newcomer Blake Wagner, who the club signed after the Wingert injury to add depth to the outside back position. He could also start back-up center back Chris Schuler, who entered the match after the Beltran red card last weekend and more than held his own despite playing out of position.
"At Seattle on turf, with (Mauro) Rosales as the closest player to him, it was a difficult task and he got it done," said Kreis.4 comments on this story
Wagner might've been called upon under normal circumstances, but he didn't even travel with the team to Seattle. Leaving Wagner home was more a function of experience rather than a lack of trust, according to Kreis.
"We have to make some difficult choices now when we start getting players healthy, we actually get to make decisions, which is nice. For us, we chose to be a little more offensive minded, use some guys in the 18 that have done a lot for us up to this point rather than put someone in who hasn't contributed for us and put him in a tough spot," said Kreis.
Unlike last week when Schuler was the only option after Beltran's ejection, this week there's plenty of time for Kreis and his coaching staff to assess Schuler and Wagner to determine who fits the game plan best against Kansas City.