It took a while, but Real Salt Lake finally has some stability at left midfield.
Just like the Miami Dolphins blamed Ricky Williams' sudden retirement for its horrendous NFL season last year, RSL's midfield conundrum was the fault of Pablo Brenes, who demanded a trade back to his native Costa Rica during training camp.
Brenes' departure forced Salt Lake coach John Ellinger to mix-and-match his midfield starting lineup throughout training camp and then the first two weeks of the season.
Things are gradually falling into place.
Just a week after acquiring Trinidad & Tobago international Leslie "Tiger" Fitzgerald, RSL added another left-sided player, Seth Trembly, in a trade with Colorado Tuesday. Salt Lake gave up a fourth-round pick in the 2006 Supplemental Draft to acquire Trembly, who looked very sharp during his inaugural training session with the team Wednesday.
Trembly has been placed on the 18-man senior roster, replacing Jeff Stewart who was placed on the season-ending injured list.
"It's Catch 22. I've been in the league for six years, so I hope everyone knows that I can play at this level," said Trembly, who has been with the Rapids his entire MLS career. "But on the other hand, it's very important to myself to prove to these guys that I can play at the level that this team strives to play at."
Combine those additions with the gradual-emergence of rookie midfielder Luke Kreamalmeyer a natural right-sided player who started at left-mid last week and the return of Evan Whitfield who missed the first two games with an ankle injury, and suddenly coach Ellinger has some flexibility on the wings.
That was hardly the case in Week 1 at the MetroStars.
In that season-opener, Marlon Rojas, the team's best left-sided defender, started at left mid, while Dipsy Selolwane, a natural forward, started at right mid. The team salvaged a tie in that opener, but a week later at Los Angeles, inconsistent play on the wings contributed to the 3-1 loss.
Ellinger shook things up in a home-opening win over Colorado last week by starting Kreamalmeyer out left and Chris Brown out right. Even though Kreamalmeyer's natural position is on the other side of the midfield, and Brown is better suited at forward, the duo played well throughout the game and created several excellent scoring chances in the first half.
Nonetheless, Salt Lake appeared to be its most dangerous late in the game when Fitzgerald and Whitfield came on as wide midfield substitutes. In fact, it was Whitfield's toughness on the ball out wide that caused the free kick that led to Brian Dunseth's goal.
"When you come into a game as a reserve, your job is to make an impact. I definitely did that," said Whitfield, a five-year MLS veteran. "That's all you can ask for. I work hard in training, and make a contribution when called upon. Ultimately, it's the coach's decision, but you try to make that decision as hard as possible."
Those tough decisions are a luxury according to Ellinger.
Having two capable left midfielders in Fitzgerald and Trembly, and two right midfielders in Kreamalmeyer and Whitfield, forces everyone to practice even harder.
"I think in every good team, you're going to have competition for every position," said Trembly. "It's going to make players get better, and it's going to make them be at the top of their game week in and week out, and that makes the team better."Plus, with the inevitability of injuries and Fitzgerald being called into national team duty with Trinidad & Tobago, depth will be very important with 29 games remaining on the 32-game regular-season schedule not mention U.S. Open Cup games and exhibition games.