Brad Rock: Real Salt Lake getting a shot of star power
SANDY — There were no limousines, no red carpets, either. Nobody arrived with an entourage or wore diamonds embedded in his teeth.
Saturday’s Real Salt Lake-Los Angeles match was a relatively low-wattage affair, even though it did include the Galaxy — Major League Soccer’s version of the old “Showtime” Lakers.
But on the star scale, you’d have to rate this a straight-to-DVD drama.
Tell that to 20-year-old Olmes Garcia.
Who needs David Beckham around to make fans scream?
The Colombian-born MLS rookie scored the third and fourth goals of his career in RSL’s 3-1 win over the Galaxy. Missing this year was L.A.’s Beckham, the international underwear model, actor, sex symbol and occasional soccer player who recently retired. Did it matter on Saturday?
Not to RSL fans.
Garcia looked like he was on his way to paparazzi stardom himself, which made a statement by coach Jason Kreis when he signed Garcia to a five-year contract last winter look slightly overcautious.
“We don’t feel any particular pressure to throw him right into our lineup, not looking for him to make any huge statements over the first several months of the season,” Kreis told MLSsoccer.com.
The Galaxy would like to know exactly when Garcia plans to make his splash.
Garcia is just the second Real player to burst into stardom lately. The first was midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who has been in MLS since 2004, when he first signed with — who else? — the Galaxy.
Salt Lake has always considered itself a semi-starless team. It has such respected and known commodities as Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Javier Morales and top scorer Alvaro Saborio.
But nobody who would show up on a billboard in Europe.
That would be the domain of Beckham, who retired from MLS after last season. Which means even Los Angeles is a little short on celebrities, this year. The lone “name” was Landon Donovan, the decorated forward who was once married to actress Bianca Kajlich.
Yes, Donovan did deliver L.A.’s only goal, in first-half stoppage.
Meanwhile, there’s Real Salt Lake, whose celebrity list begins and ends with an occasional fan visit from Jimmer Fredette.
Even for a team not known for famous people, RSL was a little thin on name power on Saturday. Striker Saborio, Luis Gil and Abdoulie Mansally were on national team assignments. L.A. was missing Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Oscar Sorto, also called to serve. Gone too was Mike Magee, who was included in the deal that brought Robbie Rogers to California.
So even though Los Angeles was in town, there was nary a pair of designer sunglasses to be seen. Yet in its own way, it has been a season of “celebrity” for Grabavoy, too, the unassuming Real midfielder who has recently been thrust into the spotlight, scoring three goals in the previous three MLS games. He’s usually as low-key as a yield sign. He has already matched his career season scoring high (3). Last week he was the hottest interview on the team. Asked on Friday if he’s going to start wearing sunglasses at night, or maybe gold capping his teeth, Grabavoy said, “No. I’m not gonna hop on Twitter any time soon, or anything like that.”
Charlie Sheen can relax.
“Ned’s not one of those flashy guys who wants to be in the paper,” goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “He just does the work and it’s really shown this year.”
For Grabavoy, off-season mental adjustments such as attention to detail have him, at 29, doing things he’s never done. He registered the quickest goal of the season for RSL, in the fourth minute of a May 19 match with Chivas USA.
A popular figure with teammates, Grabavoy has previously been a “little things” player, drawing the respect of teammates but scant attention in the media. But with a combination of injuries and national team assignments churning Real’s lineup, it has turned to a who-wants-to-star-tonight approach.
Garcia, who turned pro in 2011 and played two years for Desportes Quindio, of Colombia, was considered a player long on potential but short on exposure. During a busy offseason, Real shook up its roster, but kept steadying influences such as Beckerman, Morales, Nat Borchers, Rimando and Grabavoy to guide.
Then the club went after Garcia.
So far it has worked. Real is 6-1-1 in all competitions since losing 2-0 to the Galaxy in April.
On Saturday Garcia netted goals in the 84th minute and in stoppage. The first was a spectacular header with his back to the goal, the second on a breakaway as time ran out.
In its own way, and its own place, RSL had all the star power it needed.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @therockmonster; Facebook: Rockmonster Unplugged
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