Real Salt Lake returns from preseason stint in Arizona as a closer, better attacking team

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak (11) brings the ball downfield, in MLS soccer action at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday, March 9, 2019.

Herriman • Traveling outside the confines of Utah to Phoenix didn’t just allow Real Salt Lake respite from brisk winter temperatures. It also gave the team a chance to bond.

Whether it was team dinners, a hike in lieu of soccer training, or a Connect 4 tournament, RSL players and coaches came back to Salt Lake City with more of a sense of camaraderie.

Coach Freddy Juarez said midfielder Albert Rusnák, non-roster player Taylor Peay and defender Alvin Jones were the victors of the Connect 4 tournament.

“Simple, dumb in a way sometimes,” Juarez said of the board-game competition. “But you had laughs, you had guys competing. It was good.”

Aside from the fun, the club continued to build on its attacking principles, culminating in a two-part, 120-minute scrimmage against FC Arizona of the National Premier Soccer League. Two different lineups played and both recorded 3-0 wins.


Feb. 29 • At Orlando, 4 p.m. MST. Season opener.

March 7 • New York Red Bulls, noon. Home opener.

Rusnák said the scrimmage allowed RSL to implement the attacking concepts it’s worked on up to this point of preseason. He felt the team did a good job of that.

“It’s just about the details,” Rusnák said. “We’ve been working on the movement off the ball so the guy who has the ball and has got it in possession has more than just one or two options [of] who to pass it to.”

Juarez said three or four of the team’s six goals in the scrimmage came from players effectively getting behind the opponent, which he said is one of his biggest areas of emphasis.

Now that RSL is back in Utah until Friday, the focus is the defensive part of the field. Tuesday was the club’s first day working on defense, Rusnák said.

Juarez said the focus with defense so far is introducing the concepts to the new players on the roster and reminding the team that it should build on the its defensive performance from 2019.

“We have to be better than what we were last year in the defensive part,” Juarez said.

Giuseppe Rossi getting a look

RSL is trying out Giuseppe Rossi, a New Jersey native and former player on Manchester United and the Italian national team. The 33-year-old forward last played for Genoa, but has been without a club since 2018.

“He’s here and we’re taking a look at him like anyone else and seeing what he can offer to the team,” Juarez said. “If that presents itself, then we have to take it a day at a time because he’s been out of soccer for a while.”

Rossi tested positive for a banned substance in 2018, but avoided an anti-doping ban from soccer. He’s since received training invites from Manchester United, Los Angeles FC and Villarreal.

“Experienced player, national team, played in top leagues,” Rusnák said of Rossi. “We can definitely see the quality he has.”

Justen Glad returns to club after USMNT stint

RSL defender Justen Glad has been at January camp with the U.S. Men’s National Team for the entirety of the MLS club’s preseason. He was even named to the national team’s travel squad for the first time in his career.

But now he’s back with this club and ready for the upcoming Major League Soccer season.

“It was a good steppingstone to go into this season strong,” Glad said.

Glad has participated in several USMNT camps in his career, both on the senior team and the Under-23 team coached by former RSL coach Jason Kreis. He said those call-ups make him feel he’s in the running for the Olympic roster.