Herriman • Coming into the 2019 season, Real Salt Lake looked much like it did at the same time last year. The young homegrown core was a year older, veterans like Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando were back, Tony Beltran and Luke Mulholland returned healthy, and international players like Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnák plan to build on their first MLS experience.
But amid all that continuity — and a refrain from the organization that offseason additions would complement the team in place — there are a few fresh faces. RSL either signed them outright, or picked them up in the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.
The new guys have some adjusting to do, but head coach Mike Petke has already seen them turn the heads of veterans such as Rusnák and Beckerman, he said, singling out Tate Schmitt and Eric Holt, who were picked up before the draft.
"They came in hungry and they’re not content, which is very important to me,” Petke said. “They’re not content to just get a contract with RSL, a minimum contract. I don’t want players who just have that goal. No, they have ambitions to break the starting lineup to play a lot of games and to raise their value.”
Schmitt, a forward who played at the University of Louisville, started his freshman season with what may seem like a lofty goal. Like RSL’s Corey Baird, he wants to be the MLS Rookie of the Year. At the time, Baird was still in January camp with the United States Men’s National Team, and has since played two games with the squad.
Schmitt sees Baird as a role model.
“Just seeing him do that, I would love to follow in his footsteps,” said Schmitt, who has appeared in one of three preseason games so far. “I believe I can make that impact on the team.”
Julian Vazquez is another one of RSL’s rookies, although the club signed him from the RSL Academy in October. The 17-year-old has appeared in all three of the games this preseason, and scored a goal to boot.
Petke described both Vazquez and Luis Arriaga, who signed a homegrown deal in late November, as “little pit bulls,” and said they are improving daily and have also taken to life as professionals like ducks to ponds.
Previous experience around the club seems to have been a theme as RSL figured out who to sign and draft. Sam Brown, who played at Harvard, interned for the team last summer and now gets to wear a jersey with his name on it.
However, it appears Brown is currently on the outside looking in. He has yet to see action this preseason and is battling with fellow draft pick — and now hotel roommate — Kyle Coffee for the team’s last remaining roster spot. The team has 29 players under contract out of the 30 maximum allowable by Major League Soccer. Coffee has played in all three preseason games.
Before the team traveled to Hawaii, Brown said his main goal was to make the team and hopefully appear in a game.
“But at the same time, there’s bigger steps,” Brown said. “So I think trying to work hard every day and just learn as much as possible and kind of get used to the idea of being a pro, competing every day for a spot and kind of fighting for the team.”
Holt has appeared in two of the games so far in the preseason, and started one. The UCLA product said he has gravitated toward Beltran and Nick Rimando, who played for UCLA, for advice. He added that his time in college helped make his transition to the pros easier.
Other veterans have noticed how well the new players are fitting in. Aaron Herrera, who is entering his second MLS season, said he doesn’t think any of the rookies were brought in solely for development.
“I think every player has a chance to be a starter at the beginning of the year if they really wanted to,” Herrera said. “Every player they brought in is a quality player and they can make a difference.”