How RSL effectively adjusted to absences in its midfield in the big home win over Houston

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Houston's Jared Watts (33) and Real Salt Lake midfielder Damir Kreilach (6) as Real Salt Lake hosts Houston Dynamo, MLS Soccer at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, Wednesday May 30, 2018.

Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke dubbed the first 45 minutes of Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo, “our best first-half performance of the year,” and it was also a first half with a new midfield lineup.

With RSL scheduled to play five matches in 15 days and with midfielder Albert Rusnák away on international duty, Damir Kreilach took a more attacking role. Captain Kyle Beckerman was rested, with Nick Besler — normally a defender for RSL — and Sunday Stephen, aka ‘Sunny’, starting.

Beckerman, of course, replaced Sunny in the second half and scored the game-winning goal.

“Our midfield did absolutely amazing,” forward Sebastian Saucedo said. “Even though we didn’t have Albert here, everyone else was able to keep the ball and do what he was able to do.”

SEATTLE SOUNDERS AT RSL<br>When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.<br>TV • KMYU

Heading into Wednesday’s match, Petke had to decide between starting Luis Silva or Kreilach in Rusnák’s vacated spot in the starting lineup. In the end, Petke decided that Silva would be effective at forward — he did score the first goal Wednesday — and was impressed by what he had seen from Kreilach in an attacking midfielder role for 22 minutes at Seattle.

At times this season, Kreilach and Beckerman have not struck a good balance of adding to the attack without leaving the defense exposed. With his role explicity an offensive one on Wednesday, Kreilach assisted Beckerman on the game-winning goal and also hit the post with a shot.

Behind him, Besler returned to his traditional position as a defensive midfielder, after establishing a partnership with center back Justen Glad.

“At this point I know his tendencies, whether it’s center back or holding mid,” Glad said. “... Every game we play together there’s just a little more comfort. So even though he played a different position tonight it was still a lot of communication, just simple one-two-touch, get the ball moving and then let our attackers do their thing.”

Sunny’s substitution was the result of having played 90 minutes against Seattle on Saturday, his first full game of the season, on top of 64 minutes Wednesday. Petke took responsibility for not getting him more minutes earlier in the season, but complimented Sunny for his overall effort.

Of the midfield as a whole, Petke said: “I thought that the work in transition — which was the main thing for me, to get back and back press and get back in the block — for 70 minutes was excellent.”