There were times between Kenny Cutler's end-of-year meeting with coach Jason Kreis last fall and the start of the 2008 season when the holding midfielder wondered whether he would survive with Real Salt Lake. After all, Cutler made just two appearances in a 2007 campaign that was riddled with injuries and frustration, and Kreis has made a host of personnel changes since coming aboard as head coach.

But Cutler has survived.

One of three members of RSL's inaugural 2005 team to still be playing for the club, Cutler did exactly what Kreis challenged him to do in that end-of-year meeting — possess the ball 90-percent of the time and become a more vocal leader — and several months later, the 26-year-old made his first appearance of 2008 in RSL's 2-1 win over Dallas on Saturday.

Cutler came on for the injured Javier Morales in the 57th minute, and afterward, it wasn't hard to figure out what Kreis thought of Cutler's season debut.

"It was very good to see him get that opportunity tonight," said Kreis, "and for me, he was top man — top man on the field."

Though Cutler is in now in his fourth season of Major League Soccer, he readily admitted afterward he was quite nervous when his name was called Saturday evening. However, as you'd expect, he loved every second of it.

"It was great for me personally, just being my first game," he said. "It was awesome. I was pretty nervous getting out there. It is my fourth year, but I feel like it was the first game I've played. It was awesome."

Amidst all the uncertainty of the last offseason, Cutler never stopped believing in himself, and he never wavered about which club he wanted to play for.

"I always believed that I would still be here," said Cutler, "and I consider it an honor to still be here after all the players that have been in and out. I was talking to one of my roommates from the first year, Jordan Cila, (and) he was like, 'It's crazy that you're still here after so many guys have been out.'"

According to Kreis, Cutler enjoyed a phenomenal preseason and was perhaps unlucky to have lost his spot to now-departed veteran Carey Talley when he returned from injury. However, RSL traded Talley to Chivas USA last week, and another of RSL's holding mids, Nate Sturgis, is out with an injury. Because of that, don't be surprised if Cutler sees the field more going forward.

"It's very difficult to say," Kreis said when asked about Cutler's role in the foreseeable future.

"With the way he played tonight, he has to be in consideration to start our very next match."


E-mail: drasmussen@desnews.com