The San Jose Earthquakes are hitting the road Friday night, when they are scheduled to face Real Salt Lake in Utah. Ahead of the clash, I checked in with Lucas Muller of SB Nation’s Utah soccer site RSL Soapbox to get the scoop on the upcoming opponent. Many thanks to Lucas for taking the time to answer my questions!
Center Line Soccer asks RSL Soapbox:
1. Look, I don’t want to be mean but I don’t think most folks figured RSL would win their first two games. What went right, and did you expect this hot start to the season?
Real Salt Lake brought in two good attackers in the offseason and two games in they’re paying off. Anderson Julio, an Ecuadorian winger, had been linked with a move to RSL for a few years and they were finally able to get him on loan from Atlético San Luis in Liga MX. The Rubio Rubin signing was more surprising, but a name that’s better known here. Between those two players, they have 3 assists and 4 goals from Real’s two games. With Damir Kreilach just behind them with 1 goal and 2 assists, the attack is clicking more than anyone thought they would this early.
I certainly did not expect this start, and I’m not entirely sure it will continue. RSL badly need reinforcements on their backline. Center back Nedum Onuoha retired at the end of 2020 and he has not been replaced yet. A CB pairing of Justen Glad and Marcelo Silva works but can’t go all 34 games without a break, and the drop-off from them is significant. Midfielder Everton Luiz injured his MCL and he was expected to be a regular in starting XI.
RSL has struggled in the attack for years now so the addition of Anderson Julio and Rubio Rubin have been excellent, but the club isn’t done on that front. South American outlets are reporting that Argentine winger Jonathan Menéndez will be joining RSL in the summer. Bobby Wood is already confirmed and should be here soon, pending the birth of his second child. If RSL can integrate all these new attackers and strengthen at the back, they could be a very competitive side this season.
2. Rubio Rubin has been the headline player so far this season for RSL. What do you like about the newcomer’s game, and can he be a legit star who carries this team in 2021?
After watching two games from Rubio, I’m kind of astounded that more MLS teams weren’t after him. He’s fast, has good vision, and is creative. His second goal against Sporting Kansas City last weekend was incredible to watch. He took on multiple defenders, utilized feints and cuts effectively, and still placed his shot perfectly. It is incredibly refreshing to see an attacker in an RSL jersey that’s able to assist, score, and generally make the players around him better. Both assists from his two goals on Saturday came from Damir Kreilach, so he’s developing a connection there already.
He’s a player that could be a star in Salt Lake, if not a the entire league. He’s still only 25 and approaching his prime years as a player. If he can continue to play at the level we’ve seen from these first two games, he could push RSL forward in a big way.
3. On a more serious note, what’s the latest on the ownership search for the club? I certainly hope the team stays in Salt Lake City, but are you confident that’s going to happen?
The silence on the ownership front has been surprising. It seemed likely that when Major League Soccer took over the sale of the team from Dell Loy Hansen at the start of the year, that things would move pretty quickly. Local tech billionaire Ryan Smith, who recently bought the Utah Jazz (who I’ve been told are very good at basketball this year), seemed to be the frontrunner to buy RSL. It was rumored that he and Hansen did not get along, so once MLS took over the sale many thought he would buy at that point. That obviously did not happen and it’s not clear who else is interested. There have been rumors of ownership groups that could buy, but nothing concrete. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said he expects the team to sell this year and is committed to keeping the team in Utah. For all his faults, Hansen did a good job of anchoring the team to Utah through the massive academy and training facility at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. I’m optimistic the team will stay, but there’s always uncertainty until the new owner is in place.
You can find my answers to Lucas’ questions at RSL Soapbox.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.