A weekly entry where we ask those in the know what to look out for in our next opponent. Ahead of this week’s visit to Salt Lake, we talk with Matt Montgomery (@TheCrossbarRSL) of RSL Soapbox to check in on how another team moves on from Mike Petke
OaM: New York kept close tabs on what happened with your previous coach, and know that Salt Lake are starting the season with Freddy Juarez installed as permanent manager. Have you guys noticed any significant changes to the team’s play since Juarez took over? Are you more or less confident with him at the helm as opposed to entering the previous two seasons with Mike Petke?
Montgomery: It’s been a pretty massive change in style, actually, and it’s been a real breath of fresh air at Real Salt Lake. The biggest change since Petke’s firing is that Juarez tries to keep play flowing on the ground, rather than resorting to the long-ball running game. As a result, the team has been more confident in their play, which was an interesting and immediate change. While it’s too early in 2020 to judge Juarez’s results, 2019 saw the team end the season on an improved run and good playoff positioning.
Personally, I’m significantly more confident. While Petke had some good qualities — he tended to rally the team behind him, for example — he struggled to position the team tactically. Wins came by force and not by nature, and it feels different under Juarez. Now, he has a lot to prove before he can be deemed a success. But early days have been encouraging, and I do feel more confident. Particularly, I’ve been feeling confident that we won’t concede multiple goals in a 10-minute period, which has been a very welcome improvement.
OaM: In another RBNY-adjacent question, New Jersey native and former long-term Red Bulls trialist Giuseppe Rossi has signed with RSL. Given Rossi’s fitness history and substitute status in Salt Lake’s season opener, do you expect Rossi to play a bigger role in this game? Will he be expected to be a major piece of the team going forward?
Montgomery: Well, that’s the big question, I think. Rossi will be a major piece of this team — should all go well, at least — but I don’t expect him to start every game, or even to start most games for some time. His long layoff is not exactly encouraging, and I think we will be smart to be cautious.
That said, I think we need to look at RSL’s history with strikers over the last five years to see that things are often a bit weird. Sebastian Jaime, Yura Movsisyan, and Alfredo Ortuno have all left the club in odd circumstances having mostly been forced out of the team, and Sam Johnson has struggled to earn regular minutes after an injury in the middle of 2019. I’d like to think Giuseppe Rossi will be an exception, and that he’ll see regular minutes. Time will tell, I suppose.
Now, for this game in particular, I think we’ll see Rossi come off the bench, probably around the two-thirds mark. He’s already proved a nice, creative force, and I think he could be a huge impact on this team as soon as Saturday.
OaM: We don’t get to know Western Conference teams as well...who is a player on RSL that Red Bull fans may not be aware but has a good chance of standing out on Saturday?
Montgomery: This is a hard one. You know Albert Rusnak, I suspect — he, for my money, has been a bit of a disappointment — and you certainly know Rossi. You may know Damir Kreilach, our midfielder-turned-forward who wins everything in the air. And Justen Glad? He’s a fringe USMNT player, and I bet you know him as a reliable center back option.
You might also know Corey Baird, who is my pick for this. Baird had a bit of an off season in 2019, and he wasn’t exactly excelling under Petke. After his firing, Baird scored four of his five goals on the season, including both goals in a big 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City. Coming into 2020, Baird had plenty of question marks above his head, and it was a bit troubling to think about him as a player who might not take a big step forward this year.
After a substitute appearance in our first match, I was forced to re-evaluate my consideration of Baird. He was active and dangerous, and but for Rusnak not seeing his run (or refusing to see his run, which seemed on the face of it to be what happened) would have likely scored the game’s first (and maybe only) goal. If we see that Baird from the outset against Red Bulls, we’ll be a dangerous side. If we don’t — well, we still have a chance to be dangerous, I suppose, but less of a promise.