After Aaron Herrera was subbed off with a left quad injury in the 30th minute, Brody came in to make his MLS debut. The homegrown had made a good impression during preseason, but stepping into a rivalry match with your team down 1-0 in the first half is a big ask. Brody not only survived, but he exceled on the pitch, making several promising runs past SKC defenders to contribute dangerous balls in the attack. His impact was most notably felt when he got an assist five minutes into his appearance with a beautiful ball headed home by Damir Kreilach. RSL and Brody could not have asked for a better start to a professional career.
Two big questions remain. First, how long is Herrera out for? Second, can Brody see the field after Herrera gets back? It was clear on Saturday that Herrera and Brody are the two best fullbacks on the team, although they both naturally play right back. If Herrera is out for an extended period of time, Brody will receive minutes at right back in his place. However, Herrera seemed relatively okay, so the substitution may have been precautionary. If that is the case, Coach Freddy Juarez will have to decide the best way to move forward. Herrera will still be the comfortable starter, but Brody definitely deserves minutes. If the coaching staff can find a way to have one of the two play left back instead of Donny Toia, RSL will receive a boost to its starting back line and Brody will received his well-earned playing time.
One thing has been consistent in RSL's two games this season, and that is on-field identity. The lack of tactical consistency last year was one of the club's main issues that I talked about in my season preview, so it has been nice to see that they have an idea on what they want to do this year. Juarez has the team playing a flat 4-4-2, and it has been much better than the 4-5-1 from last season. This formation has allowed them to play possession soccer at any pace. Most of the goals this season have been created after several quality passes were connected all over the pitch. Some have been methodical to break down the defense, while others have come quick on the counter. Regardless of the speed, the team clearly wants to spread out defenses with precision passing. The compact formation also allows them to not get overwhelmed in the midfield, a frequent reason for goals against last season.
After grabbing two assists last week, Rubin marked his home debut with a brace, and two beauties at that. The cherry on top was that his parents were in attendance to watch him play professionally for the first time. The clear winner of RSL's new formation has been Rubin, who must have impressed coaches in training. It was assumed going into the season that he would be starting in the lone striker position, only to be replaced when Bobby Wood arrives sometime in the near future. The new two striker system will allow him to stay in the starting XI once Wood arrives. The coaching staff has designed this team to have him on the field, and it is clear why after his blistering start to the season.
The loser in all of this is Albert Rusnak, a designated player and newly minted team captain. Rusnak's primary position is at CAM, which effectively does not exist in a flat 4-4-2. Rusnak has been relegated to the right side of the midfield, where he has made little contribution this season. Juarez seems to have designed this team around Wood, Rubin, Kreilach, and Pablo Ruiz instead of Rusnak. Since it is his last year under contract, I would not expect him to be around much longer, especially since a potential replacement for right midfielder (Jonathan Menendez) is rumored to be signing soon.
One thing that has been lacking for RSL nation after the explosive fallout of owner Dell Loy Hansen has been off-field identity and culture. Most of the club's front office left (many in disgrace) and fans were rightfully upset. With the hope of change on the horizon, the fans were back at the RioT on Saturday with full enthusiasm for the club, which is a positive sign for the long-term success of the organization. Supporters group La Barra Real was present after a notable absence last year, and overall optimism for the team remained high despite a dreadful finish to the 2020 season and low expectations for 2021.
The team gave a nod to the support from fans by starting a new postgame tradition that also contains a cheeky little nod to the post-game events in Minnesota last week. After every home match, the team will punt an autographed ball into the stands and then take a lap around the pitch applauding the supporters. Seeing a unified team does this for the first time was special to watch and a clear indication that this RSL team will be much different from its predecessors.
There were not many things that went wrong against SKC, but the injury bug bit RSL hard. One of the biggest talking points across the league at the start of the season was how teams would fare in a condensed schedule that challenges depth. RSL is not expected to be a very deep team, so they need to be as healthy as possible to survive this season. Everton Luiz sustained an MCL injury in practice on Friday, Julio was subbed out in the 57th minute due to a left hamstring injury, and I already discussed the injury to Herrera. Three injuries to important starters is a bad sign this early in the season. Here's to hoping that the substitutions were just precautionary and no one misses a long period of time.
(Cover image courtesy of Real Salt Lake)