Sandy • Six games don’t make a season. One year doesn’t equal a career. But after taking a chance June 27 on little-used and often-forgotten defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Real Salt Lake has gladly accepted everything it has received.
While RSL has often struggled in its last five games, losing three and being blown out 5-0 by San Jose, Watson-Siriboe has exceeded expectations. Exiled by the Chicago Fire for more than a year, the 25-year-old centerback is finally approaching the potential first shown when he helped lead the University of Connecticut twice to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.
Real’s defense hasn’t always been lockdown since Watson-Siriboe joined via a trade with Chicago for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. But RSL’s uneven play has obscured an attack that’s held opponents to just three combined goals in four games, including a 2-0 shutout of Colorado Rapids on July 21.
“As a team, we practice defense first. And once we’re defending well as a team, then we know that through our possession and our play, we’ll probably get goals,” Watson-Siriboe said. “From the coaching staff and above, they tell us defense first. Once we get that down pat, then we can attack the other team.”
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Watson-Siriboe has played a key role in Real’s recent stinginess. He played 90 minutes during his RSL debut July 4 against Seattle. In six games, he’s totaled 378 minutes and four starts. For a tall, muscular player who prides himself on his athleticism, simply holding a relevant role in Real’s outcome has been a life-changer. Watson-Siriboe went from Oct. 23, 2010, to June 30 without even entering an MLS match
“It definitely wasn’t [easy],” said Watson-Siriboe, who spent 2011 in the second-tier North American Soccer League. “Coming from college, you’re comparable to a lot of players. But coming into the league, MLS players are very technical, very athletic. … It was something that was my dream, so I continued to keep going. If something doesn’t happen right away, you shouldn’t get discouraged if it’s something you truly love to do.”
Watson-Siriboe knew all he needed was a chance. So did Real assistant coach C.J. Brown. When RSL had an opportunity to land Watson-Siriboe, Brown pushed hard. Now that the defender is beginning to prove he can consistently compete at the MLS level, Brown wants more.
“The sky’s the limit for him, as long as he has the right mentality,” said Brown, who’s provided his ex-Fire teammate with RSL game tape in an effort to fast-forward his development.
He added: “It’s about staying hungry. One game, you have a good game, that means nothing. I need you to do that the next game. I need it in training, and I need to see the focus and the determination. If you don’t show that in training … that, to me, tells me you’re not ready.”
RSL coach Jason Kreis also isn’t settling. Watson-Siriboe’s been “solid,” running on fresh legs that have provided much-needed energy. But high expectations have defined RSL’s up-and-down season, and Kreis said this isn’t the time for his team or Watson-Siriboe’s career to be content.
“There’s a lot of emotion that he’s been riding so far and doing a good job,” Kreis said. “But we need to be very careful, because this is only four or five games for a very young player.”
RSL at Vancouver
P At BC Place (Vancouver)
Kickoff • Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4
Radio • 700 AM
Records • RSL 13-8-3, Vancouver 9-7-7
Position • Defender
Year • 3
Vitals • 6-foot-3, 196 pounds
Stats • 6 games, 4 starts, 378 minutes
Career • 16 games, 11 starts, 1,059 minutes, three shots on goal
College • Connecticut
Born • Chino Hills, Calif.