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Three Points: Worrisome injuries for RSL, quality goals and fans return

RSL wins home opener in front of nearly 10,000 fans and has now won its first two games of the season.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake forward Rubio Rubin (14) reacts after scoring his second goal of the day for Real Salt Lake, in MLS action between Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City at Rio Tinto Stadium, on Saturday, May 1, 2021.

Here are three takeaways from Real Salt Lake’s 3-1 victory over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium from beat writer Alex Vejar.

1. Worrisome injuries

RSL came into the game already with one less player in Everton Luiz, who suffered a knee injury and didn’t play Saturday. Freddy Juarez said on a television pregame report that Luiz’s injury is to his MCL.

Luiz is a regular starter for RSL and a strong defensive presence in the midfield. His partnership with Pablo Ruiz was established last season and continued in 2021.

Luiz attended the game was seen on crutches and wearing a knee brace. An RSL spokesperson said there is no timetable for his return. But a person with knowledge of the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune that his injury isn’t considered too serious.

Then during the game, three other starters picked up knocks. Aaron Herrera left the field in the first half after suffering a left quad injury, and Anderson Julio experienced tightness in his left hamstring and was replaced by Justin Meram.

Juarez also mentioned Ruiz in the group that left the field with injuries. He was subbed out in the 79th minute.

The injuries to Herrera and Julio are likely minor, especially considering both players walked off the field on their own power. The club seems to be being careful with three of their most important and impactful players.

“Twelve o’clock, midday, hot. It’s not an easy game,” Juarez said. “I think it was more precautionary — some tightness. We want to avoid really risking something that would leave a guy out for along period of time.”

While the injuries themselves might not be cause for too much concern, sometimes they linger and become bigger problems than anticipated. Having four starters experiencing knocks this early in the season will be something to monitor.

2. Quality over quantity

RSL scored three goals against Sporting Kansas City. The last time the club did that was against LAFC on Oct. 4, 2020.

But it was the way RSL scored that was impressive. Rubio Rubin put away two goals himself, and they both came in situations where he had to show his quality in order to beat the SKC player in front of him.

The first came on a pass from Damir Kreilach on a ball he had to settle before taking his shot. Rubin nutmegged John Pulskamp for his first goal of his MLS career.

The second goal was arguably more impressive. He had to dribble the ball to find a good angle, then fake a shot to get two defenders off balance, then also beat Pulskamp. All three of those things happened.

Rubin’s family attended the game and erupted with jubilation on both occasions. He said he was emotional even before the game because it was the first time in his career that Rubin’s family saw him play live. Before joining RSL, he spent his entire career not playing in the U.S.

“I think I was more nervous today than I was last week against Minnesota just because I knew family and friends were going to be there today,” Rubin said. “It’s just a special moment to be able to have them there. I saw a picture on the internet of my dad in tears and I had to get off because it was very emotional to see that.”

Let’s not forget Kreilach getting his head on the end of a pass from Andrew Brody to tie the game after RSL conceded first. Brody came on after Herrera’s injury.

3. Fans — nearly 10,000 of them

RSL said Rio Tinto Stadium was a sellout and announced the official attendance as 9,842 for Saturday’s afternoon affair. The team is allowed a maximum of 10,000 fans for home games, per local health and safety protocols.

But the nearly 10,000 sounded like much more. The supporters on the south end were drumming throughout. The cheers were loud for the goals. There were anti-SKC chants.

The excitement around the club is palpable right now. And if the team on-field performance continues like this, it’s conceivable that there could be true sellouts in the near future as more fans are allowed in.

Juarez said he felt the fans gave the team the extra boost it needed.

“I loved it,” Juarez said of having fans in the stands. “I’m sure the players appreciated and loved it as well. They were big.”

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