SANDY — When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired as the new U.S. National Team coach last July, it had a significant trickle-down effect on Real Salt Lake.
Until his hiring, RSL captain Kyle Beckerman had gone a year and a half without making an appearance with the Yanks, and at age 29 it looked like his international career was likely over. Klinsmann, however, saw something in Beckerman that previous coach Bob Bradley hadn't, and it became clear pretty quickly Beckerman would have an increased role with his country.
That left his club team in a bit of a quandary.
Over the previous three years Real Salt Lake's coaching staff had tried to develop Jean Alexandre into a capable backup to Beckerman, but it just wasn't working. His technical ability just never caught up to his physical ability.
Until Klinsmann's hiring though, it rarely mattered. Beckerman hardly ever missed games, so his backup rarely played. That was about to change with his new role with the U.S. National Team.
"There's little doubt that he's going to be a fixture in the national team in my conversations with Jurgen. I think that's a terrific thing for him, a terrific thing for us, but it does cause us some problems," said RSL coach Jason Kreis.
RSL knew it needed to find a more adequate replacement for Beckerman knowing he could miss significant time in 2012, and it found the gem it was looking for in the minor league. Cuban defector Yordany Alvarez joined RSL last fall on a loan deal from Orlando City, and it didn't take long for Kreis to realize he'd found his man.
In his first start at New York on Sept. 21, Kreis said Alvarez made a few really bad errors in the opening 15 minutes, but by the end of the 3-1 victory he was the best player on the field.
When Beckerman was suspended for an extended period after head-butting a Chicago player in late September, Alvarez slid into that starting spot for a month and more than held his own.
"He was handed a very unfair task last year to come in and be thrown into what is arguably tactically the most important role on our team along with the guy in front of him at attacking center midfield," said Kreis. "He made a lot of mistakes, but he also had some really good moments."
Purchasing his contract outright from Orlando City was one of Real Salt Lake's top priorities in the offseason.
With Alvarez around permanently in 2012, RSL's coaching staff will no longer have to decide between shifting Ned Grabavoy to a deeper role in the midfield or starting Alexandre whenever Beckerman's unavailable. That straight switch should help with the continuity of the midfield.
Like Beckerman, Alvarez is very comfortable on the ball.
"He's a player through his youth career and his early days as a pro he was developed as an attacking-minded midfielder. Because of that he's a guy who can handle getting the ball in pressure situations, he always seems to know where the next pass is. He has that vision to make that good final pass in behind the defense," said Kreis.
Alvarez's first opportunity to contribute will likely come in Reserve League games until Beckerman's next call-up by the U.S. National Team. That's fine with him. He knows there will be plenty of opportunities to contribute in what will be a very busy 2012 for RSL with upwards of 50 games.
"I'm so happy to be here with the Real Salt Lake, for the coaches to give me the opportunity. Now it's about working hard," said Alvarez.
Real Salt Lake at L.A. Galaxy
Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: Ch. 4 Radio: 700 AM
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