Real Salt Lake defenders Pablo Ruiz and Justen Glad took turns sending long balls from the side of the goal to a mini goal pushed off the field about 40 yards away, filling breaks in play with their own game at training Tuesday in Sandy.
Glad hit the netting, and Ruiz sent a curling left-footed strike … just off the mark. Glad threw up his hands in celebration and Ruiz shook his head, laughing.
“Even though we speak different languages, we work really well together when we’re on the field, and we get along really well,” Ruiz said of Glad through a translator. “I was worried when I came here that it would be difficult for me to form relationships with the players because we speak different languages, and it’s a brand new situation, but it’s been great. I’ve gotten to know all the players really well and feel that I’m a part of the team.”
Calling Ruiz a defender comes with an asterisk. The 19-year-old was brought in as central midfielder. With veterans Kyle Beckerman and Damir Kreilach claiming the No. 6 and No. 8 spots, RSL could ease Ruiz into play. But RSL tried him out at several positions in training, and when a spot opened up at left back, his talent was too electric to not put on the field.
“We scouted him pretty well,” RSL coach Mike Petke said. “We knew the upside to him. He’s 19 years old, never been away from home, so it’s one of those things that took a little bit of time.”
REAL SALT LAKE AT ORLANDO<br>When • Saturday, 3 p.m. MDT<br>TV • KMYU
Ruiz, who represented Argentina on the youth international level but is set to switch to the Chile senior national team, made his MLS debut on April 11, replacing striker Luis Silva in the 58th minute of RSL’s 4-0 loss at NYCFC. But RSL found a more sustainable spot for Ruiz the following match.
Ruiz came on for left back Danilo Acosta in the second half of what would become a 3-0 win over Colorado. When Ruiz entered the match, however, RSL had been unable to break a scoreless deadlock despite being up a man since the 20th minute.
Putting an attack-minded player in the back line added an extra scoring threat against a bunkering Colorado team. His performance earned him his first MLS start Friday.
“He’s a talented player,” Glad said. “He’s clean on the ball. He likes to hit that switch, which is awesome. And he’s confident on the ball, which is great. You need that in every position.”
Ruiz is the second attacking player RSL has converted into an outside back this season. Ruiz played opposite Brooks Lennon, who traditionally is a winger. Ruiz hasn’t yet secured the starting spot at left back for the long term, and he still has to further develop the defensive side of his game. But with Petke’s readiness to call on Lennon at right back week after week, the RSL manager has proven to be understanding of that learning curve as long he sees consistent improvement.
“It used to be when I was out of position, ‘Oh we just lost the ball,’” Ruiz said. “But now if I’m out of position, that hurts a lot more on the defensive end. So I’m learning now not only to defend better but be in better defensive shape and position, and I’m focussed far more on it now than I was prior to coming here.”
Backup goalkeeper Alex Horwath has undergone successful right achilles tendon surgery, RSL announced Tuesday. He is expected to remain out for the remainder of the regular season.
Two RSL defenders, however, are close to returning to the field. Marcelo Silva (groin) and Taylor Peay (knee surgery) trained in full Tuesday. Petke said he’d like to get them minutes with the Monarchs to help them build up game sharpness, but he has not ruled out skipping that step.