SANDY — Real Salt Lake's 2012 season is kicking off in much the same way its 2011 season ended — with injury concerns against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The biggest question surrounding RSL heading into last year's Western Conference final at L.A. involved the health of its two center backs. Jamison Olave ended up playing and Nat Borchers didn't as the visitors bowed out of the playoffs with a 3-1 loss.
This Saturday, Real Salt Lake kicks off the 2012 season with a rematch at the L.A. Galaxy, and like last year's playoffs the team is far from 100 percent. It's actually in worse shape.
RSL coach Jason Kreis realistically ruled out five players — four starters — for the match this weekend. Will Johnson is in Germany following sports hernia surgery, and is out for sure. Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales, Nat Borchers and newcomer Jonny Steele all trained with the team in the inaugural training session at America First Field in Sandy on Tuesday, but Kreis said it's unlikely any of them will play.
He didn't rule out bringing one or two of them off the bench as a sub, but admitted he would probably err on the side of caution to have them closer to 100 percent for the home opener the following weekend against the New York Red Bulls.
"We could see some brand new faces in the starting lineup Saturday night who've never donned an RSL jersey before. It could be a real interesting situation, and again, exciting to get some new players some experience right off the bat," said Kreis.
Chris Wingert's status is still up in the air as well. He received a nasty cut over his right eye in last week's preseason finale, a gash that required numerous stitches to patch up on Monday. He said he expects to play at Los Angeles, but acknowledged it would be up to the doctors.
With so many players doubtful or questionable, one of RSL's eight newcomers could be poised for a quick debut.
"We got a lot of players on our roster, and we've been playing a lot during preseason, so they've got some minutes under their belt in preseason action and now it's time to really turn where the games mean something," said RSL keeper Nick Rimando.
But are those newcomers ready to contribute at a high level?
"I don't think they're quite where they want to be yet, but I don't think anybody is the first couple of games. That takes time. Once you get that first game underneath your belt you get some of the loose out of your body and then you feel a little bit more comfortable," said Rimando.
One guy who's looked pretty good already this preseason according to Kreis is 21-year-old midfielder Sebastian Velasquez. A second-round draft pick, he's probably had the best preseason out of the eight newcomers, which resulted in a starting spot in RSL's final preseason game.
"He's a player that's shown that he wants to compete for a spot right away," said Kreis.
He may get the nod at Los Angeles without Johnson and Morales available. Kreis said the other seven newcomers all took steps forward in the preseason as well, but not at Velasquez's rate.
"I think everybody's going to take their own time to transition to the speed of play, to transition to having to train extremely hard and competitively every single day. We know it's not an easy thing, and we know it takes different people different amounts of time," said Kreis.
RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey believes RSL's depth is more talented and athletic and with more long-term potential than last year, but acknowledged they might struggle a bit up front if called upon as they continue to adjust to MLS.
"If we're all patient, I think we're going to be OK," he said.