Sandy • With their midweek goodbyes to their teammates, Real Salt Lake’s three stars are off to jostle for a seat on a plane to Brazil, leaving three large holes in the starting lineup needing to be filled.
Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando are in Palo Alto, Calif., for the U.S. men’s national team camp at Stanford University, out to make Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster set to be submitted to FIFA on June 2. Striker Alvaro Saborio has returned to Costa Rica to contend for a role with Los Ticos before, like the USMNT, the official rosters are pared down seven spots from 30 call-ins. The three RSL stars are expected to miss a minimum of six regular-season matches and at least one — and potentially as many as three — U.S. Open Cup matches if they all make it to Brazil.
The potential replacements?
Enter midfielder Cole Grossman. Probably.
Enter goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. More than likely.
Enter forward Devon Sandoval. The odds-on guy.
If there is any concern about going forward without the Big Three, RSL coach Jeff Cassar isn’t showing any.
“It’s going to be business as usual,” Cassar said. “I completely believe in these guys 100 percent, and they each bring different aspects that are fantastic to the game.”
Any way it’s sliced, the next six weeks will have its intrigue. Attinella has garnered the necessary experience to step into the role behind the RSL back line, both in 2013 and earlier this year when Rimando missed two matches with a knee injury. The 25-year-old Floridian had nine saves in preserving a 0-0 MLS Cup final rematch at Sporting Kansas City on April 5 and was in goal when RSL drew 2-2 at the Philadelphia Union a week later.
“I’ve been knowing this was coming for a while and I’ve been preparing for it and ready to get the game going,” Attinella said. “It was obviously great to get two games in — anytime you get game experience when you’re in my position, it’s obviously going to benefit you — but it’s been a little bit of time since I’ve gotten to play.”
The competition to replace Saborio’s spot up top will be between Sandoval and Olmes Garcia, but since the club’s standard is to pair a target forward capable of holding the ball alongside a speedster — incumbent Joao Plata, in this case — odds rest in the favor of the 22-year-old New Mexico Lobo. Sandoval scored seven goals across all competitions in 2013 and has overcome a lingering foot injury to contend for a spot in the starting lineup. Formulating the chemistry Plata and Saborio had together early on (combined 11 goals and five assists in 2014) will be crucial for Sandoval should he and Plata team up like they often did in 2013.
“I was just trying to get healthy and get 100 percent for this window,” Sandoval said. “I feel good and I feel ready to go.”
The most intriguing odds-on replacement will be Grossman. The 25-year-old midfielder battled a brutal case of shin splints for several weeks, which sidelined him. But Grossman rebounded last week and saw his first minutes in Sunday’s 5-2 win at Houston since RSL’s second match of the year at San Jose on March 15. Grossman’s vision and versatility put him No. 2 behind Beckerman entering 2014, a spot he earned toward the tail-end of 2013, displacing former midfielder Yordany Alvarez on the depth chart.
Aiding in steering the defense against different formations and inserting himself in the attack when needed now rests on Grossman. But watching Beckerman, Grossman said, will ease the chasm between backup and starter at one of the club’s most complex positions.
“Positionally he’s really good and I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch him for a year and some change now, so I think just making sure I’m in the right spots when the ball turns over in transition and when they have the ball, cutting out lanes and making sure we’re not easy to play through,” Grossman said. “It definitely is intricate, but I’m lucky we have the best in the business on our team to study and learn from.”
Regardless of who starts and who doesn’t, life without Beckerman, Rimando and Saborio has already begun for still-undefeated RSL. The next six weeks starts Saturday against Colorado.
Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando and Alvaro Saborio are off to their national team camps to prepare for the World Cup. These are the guys RSL hopes will replace them:
Age • 25. Position • Midfielder. Hometown • St. Louis
Pro career • Columbus Crew (2011-2012), RSL (2013-present)
Transaction • Selected by RSL in MLS Waiver Draft on Nov. 19, 2012
Age • 25. Position • Goalkeeper. Hometown • Clearwater, Fla. Pro career • RSL (2013-present)
Transaction • Signed by RSL on Dec. 3, 2012
Age • 22. Position • Forward. Hometown • Albuquerque, N.M. Pro career • RSL (2013-present)
Transaction • Drafted by RSL in the second round (29th overall) in 2013 MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 17, 2013
Colorado at RSL
O Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV • CW30
INSIDE • A closer look at Cole Grossman, Jeff Attinella and Devon Sandoval. > C11