Real Salt Lake: 4th youngest team in MLS is growing up together
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Some veterans are still missing, but Real Salt Lake is refusing to back down.
Four games into the regular season, the young RSL team members are becoming increasingly more comfortable with each other.
In an offseason that featured trades of three key guys from seasons past, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola and Will Johnson, Real Salt Lake has a different vibe this season.
"It's a new team for sure," defenseman Nat Borchers said. "The messages in the system are the same but the players are different. But we built on the success we've had in the past."
Trey Fitz-Gerald, RSL vice president of communications and broadcasting, said that over the offseason, Real dropped a few ranks in age, going from seventh to fourth youngest in the league. But the team lacks middlemen, those in their mid- to upper-20s that a lot of MLS teams feature.
The young faces are serving well so far for RSL, adjusting to the style of play as well as veteran Borchers could have hoped for.
"There's a lot of different faces," he said. "It's been a process to get them to understand the system, but I think we've done pretty well so far."
Among the young players who have made their presence felt is 21-year-old Joao Plata. Acquired from Toronto FC prior to preseason play, Plata leads Real in assists with two after just four games. His first regular-season appearance was when he came in for forward Robbie Findley in San Jose. His impact was immediately felt, and his assist to Alvaro Sabario spurred the team to a season-opening victory.
Other young offseason acquisitions making a difference on the field are rookie Devon Sandoval, John Stertzer and Olmes Garcia, whose first game came last week against FC Dallas. Garcia's first shot in the game, and first touch, was a near missing header just minutes after stepping onto the field.
Many of the young teammates are getting a chance to play due to injuries to veteran players Borchers, Javier Morales and Chris Wingert.
Borchers made his first return for Real Salt Lake last weekend in Dallas. His presence was felt immediately and his leadership on the back line helped to organize his young comrades. He said playing with the new team felt different from last season, and he is adjusting to his role on the current defensive line.
"I have to communicate a lot and just make sure guys are in the right spots," Wingert said. "But it seems like these guys react so well to those kinds of situations, and we've got the right guys to fit in the system."
As for what it's like for head coach Jason Kreis to adjust to a new squad and help his team get on the same page, Borchers said preseason games were critical.
"It takes time, we had a whole preseason with the new guys," he said. "I think they've come along really well. In training, we're still yelling at each other and trying to figure things out, but it's coming."
Borchers believes the more time the guys have together, the more they will grow together and trust each other on the field.
"You're gonna see a much stronger team later in the season because of it."
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports intern for the Deseret News.
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