Sandy • The offseason wish list at Real Salt Lake stretched beyond the goal-scoring forward the fan base has yearned for. RSL had to strengthen its starting lineup in order for the style and approach coach Mike Petke wants to be more effective, more doable, so the club had to go out and find a no-nonsense player to man the midfield next to a club legend.
RSL believes it has found that piece in Everton Luiz.
The 30-year-old Brazilian defensive midfielder was acquired on loan from Italian Serie A club SPAL to serve as a disrupting force for any opposing team, while allowing RSL’s dynamic, interchanging front four to go forward and just do its thing. Just one game into his RSL career, Luiz looks like an ideal fit. In the 1-1 draw at Houston in the season opener over the weekend, he mucked up the middle of the field, and provided a jolt of aggressiveness, ensuring that no team will think it’s easy to waltz down the spine of RSL.
Eleven minutes into the match in Houston, Luiz was involved in a crunching tackle that resulted in his first yellow card with his new club. Stylistically, he might be a prototypical destroyer, but his demeanor is opposite, teammates say.
“I think his play kind of speaks for itself,” RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. “He’s kind of a quiet guy around the locker room and around the team, but he goes out there, he covers a lot of ground. He’s good with the ball. He’s adapted well with our team and he fits in well.”
VANCOUVER AT RSL
When • Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Finding a midfield partner for captain Kyle Beckerman was necessary. It’s Beckerman’s 20th MLS season. He’ll turn 37 in April. Considered one of the best defensive midfielders in league history, he remains a club staple, but RSL needed to add another veteran presence alongside him to make Petke’s scheme work.
“I thought Everton and Kyle played very well,” Petke said after the draw. “When one got a bit more aggressive, the other one held them, which is what we need. I thought Everton had very good cleanups as far as tackles as far as breaking up plays and his distribution was very good at the back.”
Luiz, who grew up in Porto Alegre, Brazil, turned professional in his native Brazil and later moved to play in countries like Mexico, Switzerland, Serbia and most recently Italy’s top-flight league. He chose RSL after the club identified him as a prime target to be that missing link in the deep part of the midfield. At the time, Luiz was playing sparingly, so he sought a new challenge.
He’s learning a new league, new country and new team despite having no Portuguese-speaking players on the RSL roster. Which, veteran right back Tony Beltran says, makes Luiz’s assimilation that much more impressive.
“I think his transition has been seamless,” Beltran said. “I think just a tribute to the type of player that he is, what he gives during the game and also his incredible sense of positioning. Him and Kyle, watching them last game, I think they meshed very well together last game.”
The RSL attack will nab headlines because of its ability to wow, and deservedly so. But as Petke and RSL general manager Craig Waibel have explained, the next phase of this young group’s evolution is maturation. Alongside Beckerman, Rimando, Beltran, and others, Luiz’s ability to lead by example will play a determining factor in how RSL keeps the opposition off the scoresheet as well as how many points the club will rack up in 2019.
“We’re a better team than we were last year,” Waibel said. “We’re a better balanced roster than we were last year.”