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Real Salt Lake wants quickly to move past its problems vs. Lionel Messi’s Miami

Inter Miami superstar Lionel Messi had two assists in a 2-0 win over RSL on Wednesday.

(Lynne Sladky | AP) Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (10) runs for the ball as Real Salt Lake defender Andrew Brody defends during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

For whatever reason — be it struck by stars or stuck in mud — a slow start doomed Real Salt Lake in its season opener against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami.

“I think it took a little while to get over the nerve part,” RSL coach Pablo Mastroeni said.

But after suffering a 2-0 defeat to open the new campaign, RSL won’t have much time to regroup. On Saturday, the team takes on a St. Louis side that didn’t need Miami’s marquee names to dominate the conference last year.

“Sometimes these games that come quickly are a blessing because there’s not a lot of time to think about it,” Mastroeni said. “We’ll confront a really aggressive St. Louis team with everything we’ve got.”

It will be interesting, however, to see how much RSL has got after playing Wednesday in the earliest MLS regular-season game ever.

“Coming off preseason, I don’t think most of the guys are ready to endure two 90-minute bouts so close to each other,” Mastroeni said.

Midfielder Diego Luna asked to be subbed off because he was cramping against Miami.

Captain Chicho Arango and midfielder Pablo Ruiz played 86 and 90 minutes respectively, but Mastroeni said they were still getting adjusted after arriving three weeks into preseason training. Andrés Gomez and Nelson Palacio were only able to join the club with a week of preseason remaining.

Meanwhile, new signings Matt Crooks and Alexandros Katranis were not available in Miami.

“It really takes about a month into the season when you’re hitting your peak,” Mastroeni said. " So there’s a lot of jelling to do. It’s important to take all that into consideration when assessing our games.”

On a hopeful note for RSL, 17-year-old signing Fidel Barajas made his debut Wednesday. The USL’s Young Player of the Year last season scored five times and had 13 assists in 2023.

“He’s brave. I don’t think the moment is too big for him,” Mastroeni said. “Really it’s just been his performances. It’s not anything other than the way he’s played and how he’s conducted himself. Obviously this is a big game to come into. I thought he had some really good moments and he’ll continue to get better.”