Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake rookie striker Devon Sandoval has been a pleasant surprise throughout the year, and in the second half of the season he’s proven himself to be a very capable back-up to oft-injured striker Alvaro Saborio.
As his rookie season comes to a close, Sandoval talked with Deseret News sports writer James Edward about MLS Cup, learning from veteran striker Saborio and the emotion of starting in the Western Conference final.
Q: Does your soccer career feel surreal at this point, you were in college a year ago and now you’re preparing to play in MLS Cup?
A: It’s definitely pretty cool to look back on this year so far, and I’m real grateful for everything that’s happened. But in saying that, we have one more game and I want to do everything I can to help the team win. It’s not over yet.
Q: Talk about your emotions the last two games, walking out of the tunnel in the Western Conference final for both legs in the starting 11?
A: The first game I had a little nerves, but I told myself you wouldn’t be in this position unless my coaches and teammates believed in me, and that calmed me down. As soon as I got in I was good to go. Walking out for the Portland game was also pretty cool because they’re stadium is pretty awesome.
Q: Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis has been very complimentary about your work ethic since you arrived as a rookie back in January, where does that work ethic come from?
A: From an early age, everybody in my family pretty much got that ingrained me that if this is what you want to do, you’re going to have to work hard. I always want to outwork everybody. I want to be the hardest working player on the field because I feel that’s where I make my improvements and that’s how I get better. I’m always trying to find a way to get better.
Q: You’ve backed up a very good striker in Saborio your rookie season, what have you learned by watching him day in and day out?
A: He’s an unbelievable finisher obviously. I like watching him whenever he’s in the 18-yard box or in the box, he always seems to find some space and makes the right run and get on the end of things. That’s one thing I’ve really tried to learn from him.
Q: What areas have you made the biggest improvements in this season, and then going forward what areas must you continue to get better at to make your MLS career a long one?
A: I think every aspect of my play has gotten better — holding up the ball, my finishing. My first touch has really improved, learning how to play in our system because at first it’s pretty hard I had to do a lot more running and cover a lot more ground than I’ve ever had the chance to do before, but playing in that system also gives me a lot more freedom on the ball. Going forward, I think I can still improve in every aspect of my game. Finishing is obviously No. 1. I want to be a better finisher. Whenever I step on the field I never want to lose the ball, I always want to connect on all my passes and hold up anything that’s given to me. If I can do that and keep improving, I think I can be pretty decent.
Q: There’s definitely a unique culture between Real Salt Lake and the fans in this community, what has most impressed you about that fan-club relationship?
A: It’s awesome. The amount of support this club has from the city is unbelievable. I’ll go around town and everywhere I go somebody will say ‘good luck this weekend’ or ‘keep it up.’ It definitely makes me feel good and makes me happy to be here. I love playing for this club and the fans make it that much better.
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