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SANDY — If you’re looking for a complete-game recap of Real Salt Lake’s Pacific Rim Cup opener in Honolulu, Hawaii, against Japanese side Iwaki FC, you won’t find it here.
Results mean little or nothing in the preseason — any coach or player will tell you that.
Moreso, Real Salt Lake was playing Iwaki FC, a club founded in 2012 which plays in the highest division of the Fukushima Prefectural Football League. That's roughly the sixth division of the Japanese football pyramid, if Wikipedia is to be believed (all other web citations about the club are written in Japanese kanji).
But there are a few things we can learn from Real Salt Lake’s performance in a 2-1 win on the islands.
Here are three of them.
Bofo's got 'tude
Real Salt Lake was under siege a few times by Iwaki FC in the opening 20 minutes of the match, giving up chances to the sixth-division Japanese side.
Wanting to put one in the back of the net to top off the pressure, Bofo Saucedo took matters directly into his own hands — to boots, rather. The 5-foot-7 winger from Park City latched on to the end of a direct rip from Joao Plata in the 24th minute, rounded some less-than-stellar defending, and easily floored the goalkeeper while directing a shot inside the far post.
The goal was fine and Saucedo did well to put it on frame after figuratively breaking a few ankles in the process.
But what we should be talking about is the goal celebration.
Saucedo ran toward the corner flag with rookie Tate Schmitt, stared at the mostly-empty Aloha Stadium, and proceeded to puff an imaginary cigarette before stomping it into the turf before teammates like Pablo Ruiz and Damir Kreilach joined him in celebration.
Saucedo came into the RSL first team back in 2014 as a highly-touted product of the famed RSL Academy in Casa Grandes, Arizona, and he’s only occasionally lived up to the hype. At just 22 years old, he’s already been loaned to RSL’s second-division side Real Monarchs, as well as to Liga MX squad Tiburones de Veracruz for the entire 2016 season.
Then last year, Saucedo broke out, scoring the first three goals of his MLS career to go along with five assists.
It’s no secret that RSL needs goals to become a complete team and challenge the next tier of top teams in Major League Soccer. And while a goal in a preseason match in Hawaii against a lower-end Japanese side won’t inspire a lot of confidence, the fact that Saucedo has the confidence to shoot, score and jibe the crowd the way he did is a good sign for his own personal development.
RSL's defense needs work
Yes, it’s preseason.
No, it’s not time to make grand, sweeping gestures based on limited experience that saw a lot of swapping, subbing and wholesale lineup changes.
But there were plenty of shaky moments from Salt Lake’s defense Friday night.
Head coach Mike Petke has put a premium on defensive work through the first two weeks of training camp. Some thought that might be because the former standout MLS center back with stops in New York, D.C. and Colorado merely prides his teams on defense.
And while that may be true, Friday’s match proved that the focus on defense is necessary for Real Salt Lake. Iwaki scored an empty-net sitter that RSL would love to have back.
Again, it’s preseason. There’s no need to panic or flip a switch. In the end, after all, RSL claimed a shutout with Andrew Putna in goal and a rotating cast of defenders including Tony Beltran’s first significant minutes in over a year, newly re-signed and former homegrown fullback Donny Toia and Monarchs center back Kalen Ryden still gave up a second-half goal that brought laughter from the Japanese broadcast booth streaming the match.
There’s plenty of work for Petke to hand out to his team over the next few weeks.
If at first you don't succeed ...
Still, RSL walked away with the win. Even when there was plenty of reason to pout or simply to accept a draw in a meaningless preseason friendly far, far from home, the players didn't.
Or at least, Nick Besler didn't — nor did he give up on a play that seemed dead, netting a putback goal in the final minutes that proved to be the game-winner.
Even if it is a meaningless friendly or a preseason game with more substitutions that players that will end up on the active roster, Real Salt Lake showed some fight, grit, and a need for a result.
It's the kind of grit that got them into the playoffs. If nothing else, RSL hasn't lost that determination — and that's a good place to build on before the season opener March 2 at Houston.
RSL will wrap up the Pacific Rim Cup at 8:15 p.m. MT Sunday against Japan's V-Varen Nagasaki, which dropped Vancouver Whitecaps FC 3-1 late Friday night.