Joint practice with Jazz allows RSL to 'break things up' heading into final stretch

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SANDY — In an age where American football coaches can go to England and lead a Premier League soccer team — at least on TV — no combination of skills is quite out of the question in today's wide world of sports.

Real Salt Lake took an opportunity during its late-season international break to welcome the fellow Ryan Smith-owned Utah Jazz to America First Field in a joint practice, offering some much-needed "reprieve" for head coach Pablo Mastroeni and his squad ahead of one final push to try and make the MLS playoffs.

"They reached out a while back and wanted to connect the two teams," Mastroeni said. "They're about to start training camp and I just thought it was a good idea from our side to kind of break things up."

The two teams — Utah's only top-flight professional sports teams — worked together for nearly an hour, participating in passing drills, conditioning and even a penalty shootout together. It was a lighter practice compared to the usual intense training sessions RSL holds day in and day out.

"When you're in the grind, there's not a lot of reprieve. It's game to game; it's very focused, and I thought today, it was great to integrate the Jazz," Mastroeni said. "I think joy is why we started playing the game, and today I felt that from everyone there: the Jazz, ourselves, experienced a great day and a lot of fun."

Rediscovering the joy of the game could be crucial for an RSL squad fighting for a playoff spot after going winless over its last four games. The team currently sits just outside the playoff picture in eighth place in the West, but Mastroeni still believes his team has a shot to make it with 6 points over the final two regular-season fixtures.

"There are other games that have to be played that'll be out of our control," Mastroeni said. "The only thing we can control is winning out, and that's the focus."

The "other games out of their control" involve the seven teams all within 4 points of RSL: Nashville, Portland, Minnesota, LA Galaxy, Vancouver, Seattle and Colorado. The good — or bad, depending on perspective — news is that RSL plays two of those teams in its final two games of the season: the Galaxy on Oct. 1 in LA and Portland on Oct. 9 at home.

Two wins and 6 points would put RSL at 49 points on the season — just below the generally-accepted 50-point threshold it usually requires to make the playoffs. Will it be enough to send the Claret and Cobalt back to the postseason, or will a surprisingly promising season end in disappointment for the new ownership group?

Before those questions can be answered, RSL will give fans a glimpse of the longer-term future when academy prospects Axel Kei, Jude Wellings and Gennaro Nigro make their debuts in a Leagues Cup friendly against Mexican club Atlas Thursday at 8:06 p.m. MDT at America First Field.

"Given our lack of depth and personnel, the expectation is that everyone's going to get run tomorrow," Mastroeni said. "We'll rotate the guys to where everyone will see the field."

First-team players Jefferson Savarino, Sergio Cordova, Bryan Oviedo, Braian Ojeda, Diego Luna and Rubio Rubin are all out on international duty and Mastroeni said several other players are out with injuries or in COVID protocol, giving him just seven substitutes on the bench tomorrow against reigning Liga MX champs Atlas.

"I think it's good for our group for the guys that haven't been getting a lot of minutes to get some reps against one of the best teams in Mexico — the defending champs," Mastroeni said. "I think it'll be a good game."

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Caleb Turner covers Real Salt Lake as the team's beat writer for, in addition to his role where he oversees the sports team's social media accounts.


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