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Sandy • Busy morning at America First Field. Sportscasters from all four local TV affiliates flooded training this morning setting up cameras as Real Salt Lake prepares for a busy week and its second nationally-televised game of 2014 as Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tim Cahill and Jamison Olave stroll into Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday night for a match set to be broadcast on ESPN. It's the first regular-season appearance for RSL on ESPN since 2011.
It's another quick turnaround in this awkward three-game home-stand as the club went from July 19 to July 24 and now to July 30 in hosting Vancouver, Montreal and now the Red Bulls. While three other Major League Soccer matches will occupy the airwaves Wednesday night, RSL vs. Red Bulls will be in primetime at 7 p.m.
New York enters at 5-6-9 having the leading scorer in MLS, Wright-Phillips, with 17 goals so far in 2014. Henry leads the league in assists with 10. Cahill starred for Australia at this summer's World Cup and Olave was a face of the RSL defense as the club climbed out of anonymity before being traded away in December 2012.
It's a high-profile East vs. West showcase.
"I do think that there is an element of we're an underrated club because people don't tune in unless it's on national TV," RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said, "so I do think it's a big opportunity for us that way."
Defender Tony Beltran said: "It's always fun to play against the big markets and even looking beyond that, just three points at home. That's the main focus against whomever, national TV or not. We just need points."
The Red Bulls are coming off a 1-0 win over English Premier League club Arsenal Saturday in a friendly in which Gunner legend Henry faced his old side. RSL coach Jeff Cassarsaid Monday that could play to RSL's advantage as several usual suspect NYRB starters faced Arsenal before having to board a plane to Salt Lake City and play at altitude on short rest.
"This is a team that counters extremely well," Cassar said, "especially with Henry dropping into the midfield and showing up in some sports … we have to put away our chances like we did against Montreal and limit [New York's] chances."
Beltran grew up a devout Arsenal follower, so the RSL outside back didn't mince words when asked about facing a player he worshipped as a youngster.
"Thierry is a God," Beltran said. "There's a reason why he has a statue in front of the [Emirates] Stadium. I have a picture in front of that statue. He's had an incredible career. He's still the king, he always will be, and that's pretty cool to line up next to him, but as soon as you walk out of the tunnel, he's just another opponent."
• Spoke to recent Homegrown signee Sebastian Saucedo, the 17-year-old Park City resident who became the club's first-ever Utah-based signee last Thursday. While he's signed his first professional contract, Saucedo's official start with RSL doesn't begin until Jan. 1, 2015.
Lagerwey was insightful on the signing, providing praise also cautioning of overhyping signing a 17-year-old player. Saucedo becomes the club's eighth all-time Homegrown contract the third in the last 10 months along with Jordan Allen and Justen Glad. As hoped, RSL is filling the pipeline with players that perhaps can be impact starters down the line.
"I think when you're really going to see the culture transform is when you see these Homegrown guys not just make our teams," Lagerwey said. "I'm honestly, to some degree, less interested in the individuals than I am in the collective and if we can add one or two [more], now in two years from now we have say five guys that are three or four years into the system. And now, can those guys be making an impact on the team? Once they become impact starters, that then allows you to diversify scouting strategy, your player acquisition strategy in a way that I think will reward these kids."
Saucedo isn't officially on the RSL roster, but he's an RSL player. He'll be participating in every RSL activity, Lagerwey said. He has a number, 23, and has a jersey in which he'll don when he plays in every reserve-league match. Cassar said he views Saucedo as more a second forward option in the attack who can show up in different spots into the midfield a bit. He described the 17-year-old "quick as a cat" who can finish with both feet.
Could he see time in 2014?
"This is just the beginning," Lagerwey continued. "My challenge to Sebastian is to come in and provide competition. If you do that and the coaching staff wants to put Sebastian in 18, I'm not saying it's going to happen that week, but once you get to that threshold, that's when you look at do you make a move to try and accommodate his process? Again, similarly, there's no pressure on Sebastian. If it takes a couple years, it takes a couple of years. Not every one of these Homegrown players will work out, not everyone is going to become an impact starter, but what we hoped now is the last three if you count Carlos [Salcedo] the last four guys coming in a little better prepared, spent more time at the Academy, have guys that we think have higher ceilings that can potentially come in and really make a difference for us down the road. Our job now is to bring tomorrow here as soon as possible. I don't have any expectations at all for this season."
• Continued to pester Lagerwey after training Monday to ask where the club stood as the late-summer transfer window remains opened until next Wednesday. It remains a one-in, one-out scenario for the club as current roster spots are maxed out. To make a signing, the club would have to trade or waive a player.
"Jeff and I have both been out looking at some options," Lagerwey said. "Our preference remains as I've expressed repeatedly is to keep our team. We think these guys have earned it, we think we have a good, veteran group, we think we've got young players that are very capable of contributing from Luis Gil to Sebastian Velasquez to Olmes Garcia to Devon Sandoval to Carlos Salcedo, yada, yada, yada … all the guys that stepped up last year in support of the veterans."
He threw Robbie Findley in there as well as a player that he thinks will find his goal-scoring form soon.
Per usual, Lagerwey stuck to his guns in saying "We're always going to be conservative about player movement, particularly in season."