Annegret Hilse, dpa/Associated Press
Midfielder Damir Kreilach says goodbye to Union Berlin fans and teammates in Berlin on Feb. 10, 2018.
I think we played 10 minutes together before that, but I could tell right away in those 10 minutes we played in preseason, he’s got quality, he’s got an engine, he’s got his head in the right place. —Kyle Beckerman

SANDY — Damir Kreilach was as surprised as anyone to be in the starting line-up for Real Salt Lake last Saturday in FC Dallas. After all, he’d only joined RSL the week prior to the tail end of preseason in Orlando and was still very much getting acclimated to his new teammates.

While it may have been a surprise to Kreilach, his acquisition was the equivalent of coach Mike Petke getting a shiny new car, and of course he wanted to show it off as soon as possible.

And wow, show off he did.

The new midfielder was terrific in his 78 minutes alongside Kyle Beckerman, and he was as instrumental in RSL’s early goal as the goal scorer was. In the build-up to Joao Plata’s goal, Kreilach should incredible skill and understanding in three quick touches that sprung RSL upfield.

First, he used his size to win a header in front of Dallas’ Maynor Figueroa in the middle third of the field. Then, when that ball was immediately knocked back in his direction, Kreilach not only beat Mauro Diaz to the ball but also had the vision to flick a pass to Luis Silva with the outside of his foot.

With one touch Silva played the ball back to Kreilach, who calmly settled the ball and then immediately knocked a ball into space for Albert Rusnak who raced upfield and helped set Plata up for the opening goal of 2018.

“First impression’s are great. Very happy about my first game. I would like to say for my teammates, thanks for great support,” said Kreilach.

It took the Croatian box-to-box midfielder just 25 minutes to have a direct impact on the score sheet for RSL, something that didn't surprise Beckerman one bit.

“I think we played 10 minutes together before that, but I could tell right away in those 10 minutes we played in preseason, he’s got quality, he’s got an engine, he’s got his head in the right place. It’s been huge for us bringing that quality up for our team and making us better,” said Beckerman.

A year ago Luke Mulholland and Sunday Stephen rotated starting alongside Beckerman in the defensive midfield, but in one game it appears Kreilach has seized control of that spot in the lineup.

Defensively, his contributions were everything you’d expect from the player who used to be the captain of his Union Berlin team in the German second division before making the move to MLS.

“Damir had a solid first game. He was up against one of the better attacking players in the league in Michael (Barrios), one of the fastest in the league, and just like every single person I can point out there were things that we have to look at and ask Damir to do better, but there’s also things that he did very well at,” said Petke.

Newcomers often take a while to get their fitness level to where it needs to be, but RSL is benefitting from the timing of the Kreilach acquisition. German leagues take a month-long break from mid-December to mid-January, with teams then going through a short two-week preseason before rebooting the season.

Kreilach went through that mini preseason with Union Berlin in early January and then also played in two matches before being acquired by RSL. So with the MLS season kicking off last Saturday, Kreilach was equally if not more match fit than his teammates.

After his strong debut, Kreilach is already looking ahead to his next match with RSL’s home opener this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. against expansion Los Angeles FC.

“Must be positive and now concentrate us for the next game against Los Angeles,” said Kreilach.