As the players walked off the pitch and 6335 fans cheered passionately in the stands, the lights went out at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Real Salt Lake's reserve team walked away with 1-0 victory over BYU Soccer in a friendly exhibition match. It also signaled another chance for development for the young RSL players and one very important night for defenseman Chris Wingert, who made his first match appearance of the season.
“It felt great to be out there,” Wingert said. “I didn't feel to sharp, a little slow and sluggish, but I think maybe that's to be expected.”
RSL controlled the pace and contained the ball in BYU's half for the majority of the match. The squad had several chances to score between the combination of accurate crosses and hustle plays, but the BYU defense stayed strong throughout the game.
“Credit to their defense,” RSL assistant coach Cassar said. “They stood tall, their goalkeeper made some good saves. Maybe on another night we score those goals, but we have to make sure to give the message to these guys that these chances don't come all the time. When you do get them, you've gotta put them away.”
In the 46th minute, John Stertzer finally put one away. Khari Stephenson crossed a ball past the far post and as it headed for for the end line, Kwame Watson-Siriboe barely got a head on it to save the play. He centered the ball just inside the six-yard box and Stertzer found himself in the right place as his head made contact with the ball, directing it up to the crossbar and in.
“It was all Kwame,” Stertzer said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. He played a great ball back and I had to tap it in, so it was really easy on my part.”
The team admitted to not playing aggressive in the first half and just going through the motions. Following halftime, despite not scoring anymore goals, the guys felt they made the right adjustments needed to finish out the game.
“The first half we were kind of going through the motions, weren't imposing ourself on them,” Cassar said. “I thought the second half, we really came out with more energy and more willingness to get forward. On a different night we score three or four goals in the second half.”
Wingert, who was antsy to play in the match, entered the game in the 59th minute with a standing ovation from the crowd. His first full practice with the team was on Friday and he pushed the doctors to let him suit up for the exhibition match. Although the time he's spent recovering slowed down his game, he knew that was what he would be dealing with as he made his return.
“Sometimes your mind thinks you can do some things that your body cant keep up” Wingert said. “I think that happened a few times, but foot feels good and I just need to keep pushing forward.”
Wingert wants to get back to full strength as soon as possible, but he also believes he wont automatically get his starting job back. With the new depth Real Salt Lake acquired, the guys filling the spot on the team he occupied last season are performing well and proving their success.
“The guys are playing great, nobody owes me anything,” Wingert said. “I don't deserve to be out on the field unless I'm the best guy for the job. I absolutely need to win a spot back.”
Reserve games often focus around the development of young players, and this game served that purpose to a tee. The off-season Colombian recruit Olmes Garcia, showed his immaculate speed several times in the match including one opportunity just before halftime. Garcia started sprinting with the ball from just past midfield and out ran two defenders while creating an opportunity in front of the net.
“You could see how much talent (Garcia) has, he's so fast,” Wingert said. “Bring him in maybe as a little bit of a project. He's young, but man when he gets running at defenders he's got a lot of juice.”
Stertzer and Lovel Palmer also continue to show improvement with each opportunity on the field. Both players are new to Real Salt Lake this season, and with early season injuries, the two have seen playing time on the first team already this year.
“I told the guys, these games are the only way we are going to get on the pitch for the first team,” Palmer said. “So we have to play with intensity and do the right things. The head coach Jason Kreis is watching the game also, and he's assessing every player. So we have to make sure individually and collectively as a team we're performing well.”
The exhibition match proved a few things to the fans and possibly the whole organization, the reserves and Wingert alike are playing with something to prove and hoping to earn their spot.
Whitney O'Bannon is currently a new media sports intern for the Deseret News.
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