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Real Salt Lake: Amid injuries, changes, struggles, how does RSL reverse course after rough start?

First Published      Last Updated May 23 2017 05:43 pm

Real Salt Lake » Injuries have claimed 77 games for first-team players during the team’s 3-7-2 start.

Seattle • Real Salt Lake general manager Craig Waibel said anyone is allowed to "view art, the game, our game, and interpret it as they wish."

It's been sort of all over the place lately at RSL.

"I don't really get caught up in someone being disappointed — I'm disappointed," Waibel said this week. "I don't like the paintings I've been looking at the last couple weeks, and anyone who does probably enjoys very abstract, non-meaningful art."

Waibel, like everyone associated with RSL, is waiting anxiously for the canvas that is this 2017 season to have a full set of colors at its disposal. When it all comes together, he said, its something to behold.

Yet RSL hasn't been dealing with an entire set; instead it's been a series of injuries, significant change, and at times, troubling performances. RSL (3-7-2, 11 points) is off to its worst start since 2007 even after its 2-1 win over New York City FC on Wednesday.

"At this point, the biggest part of the problem is you can set out 30 paints," Waibel said, "and if you take away 17 of them, you limit the ability of the artist, and you limit the ability of the colors within the art."

The numbers parallel RSL's ongoing injury crisis. RSL utilized 26 of its 28 players within the first 11 weeks of the season. The only two to not see the field? Center back Justen Glad, who suffered a knee injury while with the U.S. U-20 national team, and third-string goalkeeper Lalo Fernandez.

RSL already has lost 77 games to injury between 13 first-team players, many of whom were designated starters coming into the year, entering this weekend in Seattle. That number likely will balloon to as much as 82 after the match against the Sounders.

"The truth is," Waibel said, "you're only seeing this amount of players because of the injuries we've sustained."

But how did RSL get here?

Solving the issues

Mike Petke might be fuming inside due to the injury issue still pestering RSL, but the coach hired in late March to replace former coach Jeff Cassar refuses to give any credence to being down so many key players.

"Majority of failure comes from people who make excuses," Petke said. "So I'm frustrated in the fact that I would like these guys to be able to, like I know they want to contribute, but I'm steady in my thought process that I keep saying it, somebody's absence is another person's opportunity."

Waibel said RSL remains in the midst of investigating how a team managed to pick up so many muscle-related injuries so early in the year. Everything is being thrown into question, too, going all the way back to offseason workout plans, to whether or not they were executed properly, to how the players were put through respective preseason regimens.

"We go back to fitness tests on opening day," Waibel said, "and I would say comfortably that not all the players were where we wanted them to be."

Ten of the 13 players who have gone down with injury have been muscle-related. Waibel says traditionally such injuries are fatigue-based, but in looking back, another possibility remains.

"Did we overwork them or underwork them and once the season started, was the load too much on a weekly basis?" Waibel said. "These are all things we have to solve as we go forward."

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RSL’s ongoing injury issues

Entering Saturday’s match at Seattle, RSL had a total of 77 games missed due to injury among 13 players.

Defender Justen Glad (knee) » 11 games

Midfielder Jordan Allen (quad) » 10 games

Defender David Horst (knee surgery) » 10 games

Defender Tony Beltran (back and calf) » 9 games

Forward Chad Barrett (knee surgery) » 9 games

Defender Aaron Maund (hamstring) » 8 games

Defender Chris Schuler (foot, hamstring) » 4 games

Forward Joao Plata (quad) » 4 games

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando (hamstring) » 3 games

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (calf) » 3 games

Defender Demar Phillips (hamstring) » 3 games

Midfielder Sunday Stephen (hamstring) » 3 games