RSL is off to a 2-0 start. Should fans get excited, or is it still too early?

There’s optimism coming from the Real Salt Lake fan base about how good the team looks. But the club itself is trying to stay down to earth.

(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.

Real Salt Lake has gotten off to a hot 2-0-0 start to begin the 2021 Major League Soccer season. The team is scoring goals, riling up opponents and creating new traditions.

But the season lasts 34 games, not two. And previous iterations of RSL squads have squandered good starts to seasons. So is RSL for real?

Here is why fans should be optimistic, but also cautious about RSL’s hot start.

Why fans should be optimistic

Rubio Rubin, Anderson Julio and more

It’s not every day that two players who have never before played in the MLS join a team and make impacts immediately. Julio scored a brace in his debut off two Rubin assists, and Rubin notched two goals of his own the very next game.

Even coach Freddy Juarez admitted to being a bit surprised that Rubin and Julio have made impacts so early.

“A little bit surprising because you typically kind of already prepare yourself to give them some time to get ready,” Juarez said.

Additionally, striker Bobby Wood has recently estimated that he will be in Salt Lake City in about three weeks, and indicated that he is hungry to play soccer. If he comes in and gets playing time, that will bolster RSL’s attack even more.

To top it off, the deal to acquire Argentinean winger Jonathan Menéndez appears to be getting closer, but a person with knowledge of the situation told The Salt Lake Tribune that the deal isn’t finalized.

Beating good teams

It’s not like RSL has gone 2-0-0 against bottom-feeders. It beat a Minnesota United team on the road that went deep in the playoffs last year, and followed that with a come-from-behind win over longtime rival Sporting Kansas City.

That game against the Loons was the first time RSL won in that building. That stat is nothing to sneeze at. And for the club to score three answered goals after conceding one against SKC — a situation that just last year usually meant a loss — shows improvement in mentality.

Obviously it remains to be seen how many of these types of performances RSL can muster throughout the season, and San Jose on Friday will be one if its biggest early tests. But some players don’t categorize games into easy or difficult opponents.

“Nowadays there isn’t any easy game,” captain Albert Rusnák said. “I don’t know which game people think that is an easy win for any team in this league anymore.”

Why fans should be cautious

It’s way too early

The last time an RSL team won two games to start the season — including a road victory — was in 2012. That harkens back to the days when Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Tony Beltran and Javier Morales were all still playing.

That team finished second in the Western Conference Western Conference and and lost in the conference semifinals. Still, both publicly and privately, RSL’s message is, “Tap the brakes.”

“A great start, but that’s all,” one team executive said.

Juarez said the team has turned focus on the day-to-day journey and the group has committed and united around that idea.

“There’s no secret to why we’ve had some wins, and it comes to that,” Juarez said. “There’s going to be games that we lose. But just working and being as committed as we have been gives you a better chance.”

The Albert Rusnák question

Rusnák is RSL’s highest paid player. He’s the team captain. He’s expected to have a strong season. And, he’s in the last year of his contract.

But in RSL’s first two games, Rusnák has felt absent from the action. And the numbers back it up.

As an attacking midfielder, a big responsibility for Rusnák is connecting play between the midfield and the attacking third of the field. So presumably, he’d be constantly on the ball and making passes to streaking forwards and wingers.

But Rusnák has attempted only 68 passes in 180 minutes, per Football Reference. Midfielders Pablo Ruíz (122) and Damir Kreilach (100) have each attempted more passes than the Slovakian.

Rusnák has logged three shot-creating actions in 180 minutes. Kreilach has nine and Ruíz has eight.

The real question is how Rusnák’s success this season will be measured. Will it be goals and assists? Will it be chances created? Will it be how he leads as a captain and how he gels as part of the attacking collective?

With as much trust as the RSL front office is putting in Rusnák this year, his production has to increase. If not, that could portend trouble.


At Rio Tinto Stadium

When • Friday, 7:30 p.m.


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