Real Salt Lake, get ready for Lionel Messi

RSL notebook: A young MLS draft, scheduling highlights and talks with the club’s captain continue.

Real Salt Lake will open the 2024 Major League Soccer season on the road Feb. 21 against Inter Miami and arguably the world’s most famous player, the league announced this week.

The Wednesday night matchup will be RSL’s first against Lionel Messi’s Miami squad, a standalone contest to kick off the MLS season.

Here are four other games to circle on RSL’s schedule.

March 2 — LAFC comes to America First Field for RSL’s home opener. The noon kickoff will be the earliest home game in the club’s history.

March 9 (and May 18) — The road to the Rocky Mountain Cup will come through Sandy — twice. RSL has won the cup over rival Colorado 13 times in the last 16 seasons.

April 13 — MLS Cup champs Columbus stop in Utah.

July 3 — Before the fireworks, Real Salt Lake gets a chance to avenge its playoff defeat when it hosts the Houston Dynamo.

A young draft

Real Salt Lake went young in this week’s MLS Draft.

A rule change allowed clubs to select collegiate underclassmen and RSL’s front office took advantage of it at nearly every turn. The team drafted six players in total — only one of them was a senior.

“That was something we really wanted to look at and pick for the future,” said RSL Sporting Director Kurt Schmid. “We thought it was a good opportunity to pick some players that were a little bit less on the radar this year with them potentially going back to school and us evaluating them.”

RSL took Marshall’s Matthew Bell, who set program records with 10 goals and 12 assists as a sophomore, with the 16th overall pick. With the 18th pick in the first round, the club drafted Portland defender Kevin Bonilla, the reining West Coast Conference player of the year.

“I think the style of play that RSL plays is how I would love to play — I’m so excited,” Bell said in a news release. “I think I’m the type of player who can come in and impact right away, but I also know that if the coaching staff feels I need to be in the second team, I’m open to that too. I’m open to learning and growing as a player because this is just the start of my career. I’m also very ambitious, and I’m very goal oriented, and I think I could potentially impact the first team, and hopefully get a lot of minutes this year, and just grow as a player and help the Club to win trophies.”

Schmid said RSL will have discussions with its draft picks in the coming days before deciding who might immediately join the team and who might return to school.

Draft picks who do return to school will continue to be evaluated and will join the team at different points in the year for training, Schmid said.

“It just gives us a lot of different paths forward and discussions we’ll have in the days to come,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a situation where we’ve got some good young players we can acquire out of college without using draft picks next year.”

Real Salt Lake’s draft picks

First round

No. 16 — Matthew Bell — M/F, Marshall, sophomore

No. 18 — Kevin Bonilla — DF, Portland, senior

Second round

No. 37 — Damien Barker — FW, Louisville, sophomore

No. 47 — Josh Jones — DF, Louisville, junior

Third round

No. 76 — Max Jennings — DF, Georgetown, sophomore

No. 84 — Ruben Mesalles — D/M, Duke, junior

Kreilach talks continue

RSL is still hopeful it will be able to bring back club captain Damir Kreilach next year after declining to pick up the Croatian’s option last month.

“We’re still in ongoing talks with Damir,” Schmid said. “I hope we can come to a resolution soon but I can’t promise [a timeline]. But we’re working toward it and I think we’re close.”