Real Salt Lake’s starting lineup has changed almost every game. But in last two wins, the back line hasn’t.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chicago Fire forward Alan Gordon (21) and Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad (15) as Real Salt Lake hosts Chicago Fire, MLS soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday Aug. 4, 2018.

Herriman • Real Salt Lake has used six different starting lineups in its first eight games.

Mostly, however, that’s been out of necessity. It wasn’t that long ago that RSL finished three straight games undermanned due to red cards. And the recent injuries to keeper Nick Rimando and midfielder Everton Luiz, the team’s coaching staff has been forced to make even more shuffling.

But in the last two games, at least one section of the starting lineup has remained constant: the back line of Aaron Herrera, Justen Glad, Nedum Onuoha and Donny Toia. And in those last two games, RSL has come away with quite convincing victories.

There may not be a direct cause-effect relationship between the back line and RSL’s first winning streak of the season, but it certainly has helped the team’s bottom line. Real have given up only one goal in the last two games, an scored five.

When midfielder Albert Runsák spoke the recent consistency with the back line, he mentioned the roles those players filled and how they’re filling them.

“At least we have now one left-footed player at the back,” Rusnák said Tuesday after training, referencing Toia. “When you play with four right-footers at the back, it’s easy for the other team to know where to put pressure on us when we have the ball. It’s not an easy position for any right-footed player, especially at the back, to be on the left side.”


When • Sunday, 6 p.m. MDT


Rusnák was also most likely referring to Herrera, who has played at left back the majority of his time with RSL despite being more comfortable on the right side. Brooks Lennon played much of last season and this season at right back, but has been replaced in the starting lineup by Toia, allowing Herrera to move to his natural position on the right. Toia is naturally left-footed.

“With Donny being left-footed at the left back, it does help us, especially when we’re trying to build out,” Rusnák said.

Forward Corey Baird, who has been in and out of the starting lineup himself at times this season, said he doesn’t think “anything crazy” has changed defensively over the last two games. But he did mention the players have bought in to what is expected of them.

“Roles and positions have been defined well with what’s expected,” Baird said. “If you’re not going to do that, you’re not going to play. I think we’ve just done a good job of holding everyone accountable.”

Baird said having continuity with the back line helps with communication and being organized, but that doesn’t mean other combinations of players in those positions haven’t or couldn’t provide the same impact.

“I think we have guys out here five days a week on the training field who are playing with each other,” Baird said. “I think everyone’s confident in the person next to them, no matter who it is.”

Rusnák said RSL’s recent defensive performances have contributed to how well the team plays on the offensive side of the ball.

“I feel like when you defend that good, it gives the kind of confidence for the whole team to attack and knowing that if you do lose the ball, you’re not going to get scored on,” Rusnák said. “It’s a mix and a balance of both attacking and defending.”

RSL coach Mike Petke says he has confidence inserting any of his defensive players into the starting lineup. And although he acknowledged that Herrera and Toia were likely more comfortable at their natural positions, he said that’s not an overwhelming factor in how he chooses who starts on the back line.

“I have to weigh everything,” Petke said. “It starts with how you’re training and what your attitude is.”