Real Salt Lake: Additions, returnees add spark

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LEHI - It took nearly three years of searching, but Real Salt Lake finally christened a new practice field Wednesday.

You know, just in time to host its new team.

Well, not entirely new.

But even in the five days since its last game, the already overhauled and renovated team has acquired still more new parts. Two trades have delivered midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Chris Wingert, while most of the players who had been away playing for the United States in the Under-20 World Cup in Canada - including midfielder Nathan Sturgis, who had not even practiced with RSL since technically arriving in a trade on June 21 - have returned.

And with RSL preparing for international friendlies against Everton FC and Boca Juniors in the next five days that figure to serve as a "dress rehearsal" for the second half of their Major League Soccer season, almost all of the players - except defender Eddie Pope, who will play in his final MLS All-Star Game tonight near Denver - worked out together on the new grass practice field on the XanGo corporate campus barely a goal kick down the hill from Interstate 15, hoping to turn around a disastrous season.

"We have a real good chance to get back in the playoff race," Beckerman said.

Give him a break, he's new.

The point he was making was that after the exhibitions, RSL plays three straight home games to start the second half of the league season, giving the reconstructed team a prime opportunity to pick up some desperately needed points.

But RSL has not made much use of its home-field advantage so far, and its 1-8-7 record through the first half puts them on pace for the fewest wins in league history - which accounts for all the new players (seven since the start of the season), and the fact that coach Jason Kreis missed the workout and the post-practice ceremony heralding the new field while returning from a scouting trip to South America.

Midfielder Freddy Adu did not attend the workout, taking a break after starring for the Americans in their dazzling U-20 World Cup performance, while goalkeeper Chris Seitz mostly sat out the session nursing the knee injury he suffered in the tournament. But both are expected to be with the team by the time it takes on Everton FC at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.

"We look at it as an opportunity to play good competition," Fraser said, "and for us, we're still trying to sort our way out. . . .We can certainly look at it that way, that we really want to make sure that we get the team all on the same page and firing on all cylinders."

Beckerman believes it can be done.

In spite of his new team's frustrating history, he said it is far better poised for success than his old team, the Colorado Rapids, who are riding an eight-game winless streak.

"It's on the up-and-up," he said. "These guys are really determined to turn it around, and in Colorado, it's not like that right now. I feel like they're just going to keep heading down, and that's why I'm real excited about being here."

Team officials were excited, too, about finally having that practice field.

Practically since the creation of the team three years ago, they had searched for a suitable place to install a grass practice field, while working out mostly on the unkind artificial turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

"There were moments when we didn't think it was going to happen, but we just kept plowing forward and it worked out," technical director John Ellinger said. "Psychologically, it will help a great deal, simply because now it's an official home for training."

Chief executive Dean Howes told a gathering of fans and XanGo employees that the team plans to use the field as its permanent practice home "at least the next couple of years," until RSL's new stadium in Sandy is completed.