It appears that Real Salt Lake's Matias Mantilla, a defender from Argentina, may pursue other options in his soccer career.

Signed by the club just over a year ago as a senior international, Mantilla quickly made his mark, starting nine of the team's final 11 games of the 2007 season as a central defender. He began the 2008 campaign teamed in the back with Nat Borchers. But the emergence of Colombian central defender Jamison Olave has resulted in Mantilla being on the outside of the starting 11, and his playing time has been scarce.

With that in mind, the 27-year-old has asked and received permission to explore other playing possibilities in his native Argentina. Who knows what could happen from there. After all, it was purely coincidental that he ended up in Utah in the first place.

"I went down to Argentina without even a thought on my mind of picking a defender up," said coach Jason Kreis last summer about his trip to South America. "The agent I was in contact with represents all three players (Mantilla, Fabian Espindola and Javier Morales), and he asked me if I had any need for a central defender, and I said no. I thought about it a little longer and I thought, 'Yeah, I do, but next year.' When I saw his highlights and his DVD, I instantly was trying to figure out how I was going to get all three players because I feel he is that special ... I left there feeling like we had to get him."

Mantilla appeared in 17 games with 15 starts, including six starts this season. His best moment came in his first start with the club on Aug. 29, 2007, against the Kansas City Wizards. Only 40 seconds into the contest, Mantilla connected on a header for his lone goal in MLS competition. It is the quickest goal to start a game in RSL history and is tied for the 18th fastest in MLS history.

Mantilla's rough and hard-nosed style at the back inspired teammates at times and also frustrated opponents and officials, as witnessed by his picking up six yellow cards in 11 games to start his career. Mantilla is still with the squad officially, but depending on what his search yields, he could depart at any time.

CUNNINGHAM ON THE MOVE: Former Real Salt Lake leading scorer Jeff Cunningham is on the move once again. FC Dallas acquired Cunningham from Toronto FC on Friday in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2009 MLS Super“Draft.

Cunningham is the fourth-leading goal scorer in league history with 99 regular-season goals. He began his professional career in 1998 with the Columbus Crew. He had six goals and one assist in 32 games for Toronto FC in 2007-08. He scored 19 of his goals while with RSL.

SCRIMMAGE TODAY: With the long layoff between its games, Real will have an intra-squad scrimmage at Quinnis Junction in Park City today at 10 a.m.


E-mail: [email protected]