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Real Salt Lake: RSL's back line now at the forefront

Published May 24, 2014 4:58 pm

MLS • Borchers, Schuler, Wingert and Beltran are team's defensive backbone in World Cup stretch.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • Not lost — but perhaps overlooked — in the scurry to replace three of Real Salt Lake's best players in three different parts of the club's usual starting XI is that back line.

It stays the same. The same back four. Same Nat Borchers-Chris Schuler combo in the center, same Chris Wingert-Tony Beltran duo flanking out wide. With captain Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando now officially part of the U.S. men's national team's 23-man World Cup roster and with forward Alvaro Saborio likely going to Brazil with Costa Rica, the back line will serve as a source of consistency in the absence of the three RSL stars.

"We're going to have to get a healthy rotation of players in," said RSL coach Jeff Cassar, "but sometimes when new players are introduced, it helps that the players around him know his responsibilities and can kind of communicate and make him feel comfortable."

For Borchers, Schuler, Wingert and Beltran, the priority remains to stay sound, avoid being broken down and prevent goals. But with the inclusion of Jeff Attinella in place of Rimando between the posts and Cole Grossman holding the midfield in front of that back line, having four familiar faces who have played a number of matches together eases the transition.

"Having them communicate and not really having it be all up to the goalie, it's good," Attinella said. "I throw in my two cents when I can, but with such a good unit that works well together, it makes it a lot easier to replace Nick and Kyle for the time being."

The road for RSL, whose 11-game unbeaten streak to start the 2014 season sits one away from tying the best start to a Major League Soccer season, will become a bit more bumpy in the coming weeks. Before MLS takes its three-week World Cup break, RSL goes to Seattle on May 31, will fly to Columbus and take on the Crew on June 4 before jetting back to Salt Lake City for a June 7 match against rival Portland.

Does having that veteran back four help the club maneuver through a tough stretch help?

"I would certainly think so," said Wingert, "but if we don't get the results we want, then maybe we change our mind next week. But of course that's a little bit more of an ideal scenario than if we didn't have guys who have been playing together. That goes for the rest of the lineup as well."

As the attack has taken off — RSL is averaging a league-best 2.09 goals per 90 minutes — the defense has at times taken the brunt of those soaring starts. Early leads don't exactly mitigate pressure as the opposition presses for an equalizer. But as the club aims to make some history Saturday night against FC Dallas — its 11-game unbeaten streak to start the season is just one shy of the league record — the back line will have its say in the matter.

"The more you're able to play with the same people, the easier it is to learn their tendencies and know what to expect," Schuler said. "It's really important. Consistency's a good thing, and I think it's something that we've been fortunate to have this year.'

ckamrani@sltrib.com

FC Dallas at RSL

O At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy

Kickoff • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

TV • Ch. 4. Radio • 700 AM

Records • RSL 6-0-5; FC Dallas 5-6-2

Last meeting • RSL 1, FC Dallas 1 (Oct. 5, 2013)

About RSL • Its 11-game unbeaten streak to start 2014 is tied for the second-longest unbeaten streak to start an MLS season in league history. … A win or draw against FC Dallas on Saturday night would tie the 1996 and 2010 L.A. Galaxy teams as well as the 2000 Kansas City Wizards, who started their seasons on a 12-game unbeaten streak. … Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando were officially named to the U.S. 23-man World Cup roster Thursday.

About FC Dallas • Struggling mightily since starting 4-0-1, FC Dallas has lost five of its last six outings, including Wednesday night's 2-1 loss at L.A. … Star Mauro Diaz will significant time after undergoing knee surgery earlier in May. … Dallas has scored 22 goals, but has also conceded 22 goals, more than any other team in MLS.