CARSON, Calif. — It didn't take Sebastian Velasquez long to make his MLS debut.
The 21-year-old rookie, who was the only junior college player selected in the most recent MLS Draft, was in the starting 11 for Real Salt Lake in the season opener at the L.A. Galaxy on Saturday night.
Starting opposite David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane was certainly a big jump for a player who was playing at Spartanburg Methodist College in South Carolina last year.
With Will Johnson, Javier Morales and Jonny Steele unavailable to start, Velasquez admitted earlier this week that he was giddy with excitement about the prospects of starting against the defending champs on the opening night of the season.
"It would be awesome to get a couple minutes. To be honest I never thought I'd get any minutes throughout the season, now to know I might get some minutes in the first game is really exciting to be honest," said Velasquez, who is the first rookie to start an opener for RSL since Mehdi Ballouchy in 2006.
Velasquez is one of eight newcomers for Real Salt Lake this year, but Kreis singled him out as the new guy who enjoyed the best preseason. A big reason why was how quickly he adjusted to the speed of play, and his willingness to learn.
"I used to be the one in college yelling at my teammates, but now I'm getting yelled at everyday. But at the end of the day, I'm learning and I love it," said Velasquez.
A gifted player with the ball, Velasquez hasn't shied away from the defensive responsibilities either.
"I used to just sit up top and let balls get pinged to me and try and do something. But now you have to defend, but it's good. I feel better about myself when I'm defending. When you don't have the ball it's frustrating, But when you win it back then you can play your style and you can create chances," said Velasquez.
DEEP BENCH: Real Salt Lake would always prefer to have Morales and Alvaro Saborio in the starting lineup. Both, however, are working their way back to full fitness following offseason surgery and Kreis didn't want to risk them aggravating the injuries further.
Both, though, were available as subs against the Galaxy, along with other field players Cody Arnoux, Yordany Alvarez, Terakazu Tanaka and Leone Cruz.
Saborio's absence gave Paulo Jr. a chance to make an immediate impact on the 2012 season. A year ago the Brazilian striker was hobbled by injury most of the year starting just five matches, while appearing in six others.
Prior to the onset of injuries though, he got off to a great start with goals in two of the first three games. If he can stay healthy this year, Real Salt Lake will benefit from his creative and inevitable production.
FAMILIAR VENUE: There are several away stadiums that RSL never looks forward to visiting, but the Home Depot Center is not one of them.
"It's one of the places I think that we don't mind playing at as an away venue," said Kreis, whose team was 3-6-1 all-time at the Galaxy prior to Saturday.
With a 3-7-1 record when playing Chivas USA at the HDC, it's easy to see why RSL feels comfortable with six all-time victories in seven years.1 comment on this story
RSL's least favorites away venues are Dallas (0-8-1) and Houston (0-7-1).
COMMISH IN THE HOUSE: MLS commissioner Don Garber spent the opening night of the season at the Home Depot Center watching RSL take on the Galaxy.
It's only fitting that he'd be in attendance when two of the best teams in MLS square off four months after playing in the Western Conference final.