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How new RSL striker Bobby Wood could be the difference-maker the team’s been looking for

Wood joins attacking newcomers Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio, but might be the striker that could vault RSL to another level.

FILE - In this Saturday, April 28, 2018 file photo, Hamburg's Bobby Wood celebrates after scoring during their German Bundesliga soccer match against VfL Wolfsburg in Wolfsburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

Since the days of Álvaro Saborío, Real Salt Lake has been looking for its next striker. The guy who can score double-digit goals. The guy who can excite a fan base. The guy who can lift a team to a new stratosphere.

RSL may have found that guy.

The club officially announced Friday that it signed Bobby Wood, a 28-year-old striker who has spent the last 14 years playing in Germany and has experience with the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wood’s contract is through the 2023 season and he is slated to join RSL on July 1, after his current deal with Hamburg ends.

“It was a really unique opportunity for us to bring a guy in who is still in the prime of his career and really wanted to be here,” RSL general manager Elliot Fall told reporters via Zoom. “That matters as much as anything.”

Wood has scored a total of 45 goals in his various stops around Germany, as well as 14 for the USMNT senior team. He appears to have fallen out of favor with Hamburg, where he’s logged only 21 appearances in the last year and a half.

But with RSL, Wood has the opportunity not only to play in his home country, but also add to an attacking third of the field that already has two newcomers in Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio. Rubin is also a former USMNT player.

Midfielder Damir Kreilach thinks Wood can be a difference-maker for RSL. The two played together at Union Berlin, where Wood scored 17 goals and Kreilach scored 12. Kreilach said from the moment he joined Union Berlin, he impressed the entire squad.

“When he has some guy on his back, he turns very well,” Kreilach said. “He’s very fast. And at the end of the day, a good finisher.”

Wood said he wants to be a game-changer.

“I believe in myself and I believe in my qualities,” Wood said. “I believe that I can help the team with my physicality. I like getting in behind the defenders. I like kind of making things difficult for the back line. I’m going to try to bring that to the squad.”

Fall said the organization thinks Wood’s on-field skills will make RSL “significantly better.”

“Bobby brings a proven track record,” Fall said. “He brings all of the qualities that we look for in a goal-scorer and in somebody to lead the line.”

RSL coach Freddy Juarez doesn’t want to hinge the team’s hopes on Wood. The native Hawaiian, Juarez said, is part of the overall team collective to fill a role in a particular position that gives the club depth.

But Juarez did say Wood’s fit within RSL sets him apart from other strikers the club has signed over the years. Juarez mentioned Wood’s relationship with Kreilach, his experience with the USMNT, and once living in Irvine — assistant coach Matt Taylor’s hometown.

“There’s a lot of matching things that we felt this is a good pick for us,” Juarez said.

Wood said he’s hoping to score goals somewhere in the double digits in 2021 — a potentially lofty desire considering he will likely miss a chunk of the season. But he also thinks his value lies beyond just putting the ball in the back of the net.

“For me, it’s not about the stats,” Wood said. “I want to work hard for the team. If we can be successful as a team, I want to contribute any way possible. If that’s scoring goals, assisting, kind of doing the dirty work — I’m down for anything.”

Juarez said Wood has something extra to play for because he’s hungry to get back into the fold with the USMNT. Wood said he’s just focusing on RSL for the moment.

“I want to work hard, I want to have fun, I want to bring my qualities into the team and then we’ll see what happens,” Wood said.

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