SANDY — Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Jeff Attinella stood in the locker room at Sporting Park and confidently answered question after question about his heroic performance against the defending MLS Cup champions.
An injury to Nick Rimando had thrust Attinella into the starting lineup back on April 5, and he came up huge time and time again to preserve a scoreless draw against Kansas City. It was a performance Real Salt Lake fans had grown accustomed to seeing from Rimando through the years, but this time it was the backup making the highlight-reel saves.
The performance did more than just earn a valuable road point for RSL — it eased the uncertainty and doubt of an entire organization and fan base.
Everyone’s known since realistically last year that Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio would be departing for two months this season to join their respective national teams in Brazil for the World Cup. Their absence, which begins this week, leaves an obvious void right up the spine of RSL’s lineup, but Attinella proved a month ago there’s really nothing to worry about.
“I think it’s going to be business as usual. I completely believe in these guys 100 percent,” said RSL coach Jeff Cassar.
The RSL trio figures to miss six league games and up to three U.S. Open Cup matches while away on international duty over the next month and a half, but Attinella, Cole Grossman and Devon Sandoval are anxious for a chance to step up.
“I’ve been knowing this was coming for a while and have been preparing for it,” said Attinella, who will start in goal this Saturday against visiting Colorado.
Grossman figures to slot into Beckerman’s spot at holding midfield, while Sandoval is the logical Saborio backup, assuming Cassar wants to pair a target forward alongside Joao Plata up top.
“We’re going to wish those guys the best in Brazil, and I know they’re going to represent the club amazing, but it’s an opportunity for some different players to step up and have different roles on the team and I’m excited,” said Cassar.
Attinella made two starts for the injured Rimando back in April and helped the club earn road draws at Kansas City and Philadelphia.
Grossman should get the first crack at filling Beckerman’s shoes. The coaching staff could drop Ned Grabavoy into that spot, but all indicators are that’s a second option if Grossman struggles.
RSL has been grooming Grossman for this moment since the preseason, and he hasn’t taken the opportunity lightly.
“Positionally, (Beckerman’s) really good, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch him for a year and some change now,” said Grossman, who added that when he’s filling in for Beckerman, “(I need to make) sure I’m in the right spots when the ball turns over in transition, and when they have the ball, cutting out lanes and making sure we’re not easy to play through. It definitely is intricate, but I’m lucky we have the best in the business on our team to study and learn from.”
Grossman played the final 16 minutes at Houston last Sunday, his first action since shins splints sidelined him earlier this season. In fact, when those shin splints flared up the coaching staff shut down Grossman for two weeks knowing the crucial role he’d play when Beckerman was gone.
The injury was frustrating, and definitely slowed Grossman’s progress, but he’s nearly 100 percent heading into the weekend.
“I think I’ve dealt with it pretty well. I’m a pretty positive person, so I’ve been able to control what I can and focus on the only things I can control, which is getting better and staying fit, so I feel like I’ve positioned myself pretty well for the next couple months,” he said.
Saborio’s absence will inevitably be filled by a committee between Sandoval, Olmes Garcia and Robbie Findley.
Findley has yet to play this season after offseason knee surgery, but the coaching staff is hoping he can play 45 minutes in this Sunday’s MLS Reserve League game against Colorado. That would open the door for him to get first-team minutes in the weeks ahead.
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