Herriman • One of the themes for Real Salt Lake’s 2018 season has been its youth. The majority of the roster is under 30 years old, several are still in their early 20s.
But with RSL’s signing of Nedum Onuoha on Friday, the team brought another veteran voice to the locker room. And while he’s been in Utah for only about a week, Onuoha is already making an impact.
“So far, you can see the leadership and a great personality,” midfielder Albert Rusnák said Tuesday after a training session.
Coach Mike Petke said Onuoha, who last played with the Queens Park Rangers, a member of the English Football League Championship, has been pulling his new teammates aside for one-on-one conversations, and has gotten more comfortable speaking during training sessions. Petke called Onuoha a “natural-born leader,” but tempered expectations about what Onuoha will bring to the team with only five games left this season.
“It’s not a situation that we brought him in to come in here and to have him shine down and everything, from a leadership perspective,” Petke said. “It’s about him finding his niche and him forming relationships. That’s going to take some time.”
Onuoha has already started benefiting from his new teammates as well. He said during halftime of RSL’s 1-1 draw against Minnesota United that speaking to the younger players reminded him of his early years in professional soccer. Some have come to him with questions, seeking advice on how to be the best they can be. He’s gladly obliged.
“I think sometimes you take that for granted when you’re a little bit older and you’re surrounded by people who are older as well," Onuoha said. “That hunger and desire [from younger players], you can see more of it. And the ones who come and want to ask you questions and they want to get better. That’s when you realize what your role is within the game.”
Onuoha said that when he was captain at QPR, and he saw the roster skew progressively younger, he took it upon himself to make sure he taught his less experienced compatriots how to be “a true professional.” He hopes to get that opportunity in RSL, and perhaps have a hand in guiding his new teammates to new career heights.
“In some ways, that’s a bigger achievement for me than anything else I’ll do on the field,” Onuoha said.
Beckerman expects to play
Kyle Beckerman, who was substituted as a precaution in the 66th minute of last Saturday’s draw, said Tuesday that he felt good and expects he will play Saturday against Atlanta United. Petke said after last week’s game that Beckerman’s hamstring was bothering him, and pulled him from the game to prevent injury.
“He’s our engine, he’s our warrior,” Petke said after the game. “With the five games we have remaining, I can’t afford to have someone like Kyle injured."
Petke did not reveal whether or not Beckerman will play against Atlanta, but said the team is monitoring him. Petke added that he is not concerned about Beckerman’s health going into Saturday’s game.
“I will say that it appears that Kyle will be available,” Petke said.