The game showed both sides of the young player: his confidence and skill, his youth and inexperience.
Even as the crowd of 60,000-plus Seattle Sounders fans screamed down at him from the stands, Carlos Salcedo, Real Salt Lake’s 19-year-old center back, said he felt no nerves.
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"I like those types of games, the big crowd," he said. "It feels like it was a playoff game. From now on, every game is going to be like a playoff."
But after a 2-0 defeat that cost RSL its spot atop the Major League Soccer standings, there’s some question as to whether Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis will stick with Salcedo or opt for a more veteran presence down the stretch.
"I think he’s been fairly steady but he’s had his mistakes, and his moments where you can say for sure, ‘OK, this is a first-year player,’ " Kreis said. "And the Seattle match, I think, there were a few moments like that again. We need to be very careful about putting the cart before the horse a little bit with him and recognize he’s still developing, still learning, still gaining valuable experience and hopefully still going to improve."
Salcedo has risen quickly through the RSL ranks. He played for the Chivas Guadalajara and Tigres youth academies in Mexico before making his way to RSL’s Arizona youth academy in January of last year. He was brought to Salt Lake last July with the promise of joining the first team this year.
After an early season concussion derailed Salcedo’s progress temporarily, a foot injury to veteran center back Chris Schuler opened up a spot in the lineup.
Since May, Salcedo has earned praise from teammates and pundits for his poise, despite not turning 20 until the end of this month, and for his skill on the ball.
But with RSL fighting to reclaim first place and win its first Supporters’ Shield, Kreis could look to a more veteran presence down the stretch.
The coach has veteran center back Brandon McDonald, who was acquired in a trade with D.C. United earlier this year, at his disposal. McDonald, however, has been an infrequent visitor to the team’s 18-man game day roster since his arrival.
Schuler, meanwhile, is healthy and has trained fully for about a month now.
"I think we need to be very clear and say [Salcedo] hasn’t earned the starting position," Kreis said. "He’s in the starting position at the moment, but that might change this weekend."
If Salcedo can win the starting spot from Schuler, however, last weekend’s loss in Seattle could be the kind of hard knocks lesson that helps him when the playoffs start.
"It’s huge," veteran defender Nat Borchers said. "When you play in an atmosphere like that it’s going to be tough because the crowd is so loud and a team like that has so much energy. … But it’s a great learning experience for the young guys."
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