Bobby Wood’s plane touched down in Salt Lake City just last week and he already had a welcome party.
Real Salt Lake General Manager Elliot Fall and Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran met the club’s newest striker at the airport, gave him a jersey and scarf, and officially brought an end to a months-long wait after the team agreed to terms with him in January.
And after a short quarantine and a just a couple of training sessions, Wood already appears to feel right at home.
“I kind of feel like I’ve been here a good year already,” Wood said Thursday.
RSL officially signed Wood in April to a deal that goes through the 2023 season. He’s a former U.S. Men’s National Team player. And at only 28 years old, he’s in the middle of his athletic prime.
Wood could make a nice partner to Rubio Rubin, who has scored four goals through the first six games of the 2021 season. Or, he could emerge as the type of striker RSL has been looking for since the days of Álvaro Saborío.
Wood spent more than a decade in Germany and made his Bundesliga debut with Hamburg in 2016. Most recently, he played for Hannover 96 in the second-tier 2. Bundesliga.
Wood said he’s expecting an acclamation process to his new situation, but added that so far the coaching staff, his teammates and everyone in between has welcomed him with open arms.
RSL coach Freddy Juarez said that overall, players and staff have been receptive to the idea of building a family atmosphere within the club, which helps players like Wood to quickly get acclimated and feel comfortable.
“I already feel part of the group,” Wood said. “It’s been very fun so far. It’s been the easiest transition of my career.”
Midfielder Albert Rusnák said the goal for every player on the team is always to make newcomers feel welcome. But with Wood’s breadth of experience in professional soccer, the integration process is much smoother.
“Me personally, I didn’t expect nothing less from Bobby than gelling in with the teammates right away and being vocal and from Day 1, basically, being a part of the team,” Rusnák said. “This ain’t his first transfer or the first time he’s joining a new club. He has a ton of experience and I think that’s why he will be a big part of this team going forward.”
Wood hasn’t played in a soccer match in about two months, he said, so he’ll look to listen to his body as he works toward full-match fitness. But even though he’s not in peak form, Juarez can already see what he will bring to the club.
“He’s very tactically gifted,” Juarez said. “He’s been coached well. His positioning is very good. Body shape when he’s asking for the ball is very good.”
Rusnák said what stood out to him was Wood’s strength and how we can be “very, very powerful.”
In just two training sessions with his new team, Wood likes what he sees.
“The team is very stable, has a lot of depth,” Wood said. “Very solid team and I think we have a lot of potential to make a good run this season.”
RSL VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
At Rio Tinto Stadium
When • June 18, 8 p.m.
TV • KMYU