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SALT LAKE CITY — Real Salt Lake captain Damir Kreilach played in his first match since April 17 on Saturday in a 2-0 preseason win over reigning MLS champs LAFC.
"It was amazing," Kreilach said of his return. "Finally, to be back with the group. Even before the game, I was so excited, (like) a young kid starting to play soccer; it was unbelievable."
Kreilach headlined the first starting lineup of 2023 for RSL, joining recent SuperDraft selections Moses Mensah and Bertin Jacquesson. The 33-year-old Croatian's minutes were limited in his returns from a severe back injury that kept him out of almost the entire 2022 season.
"This was the next step physically for him," head coach Pablo Mastroeni said. "And I think with every opportunity he gets to play, the psychology of last year's injury kind of wanes a little bit and he starts to regain that form from 2021. So I couldn't be happier to have him with the group and his leadership, and just look forward to continuing to progress in a positive fashion."
#RSL starting XI vs. LAFC— Caleb Turner (@calebturner23) January 21, 2023
Hidalgo - Silva - Holt - Mensah
Ojeda - Nyeman
Jacquesson - Kreilach - Meram
Jacquesson opened his RSL scoring account early with a goal in the 10th minute on an assist from Bode Hidalgo to put the visitors up 1-0 in the closed-door scrimmage.
"It felt amazing to start the game, and then I got the opportunity to score," Jacquesson said. "(It was) good for the team. I loved the work of the team today. It was amazing to play with these guys today, because everybody was together in the same boat."
The goalscoring opportunity was started when a surprise addition to RSL's starting lineup — 19-year-old Moses Nyeman — won the ball in the midfield and found Hidalgo streaking up the right side of the field.
Nyeman came up through the D.C. United Academy and most recently played for Belgian club SK Beveren — another property of RSL part-owner David Blitzer. The 5-foot-5 defensive midfielder is one of the "non-roster invitees" participating in RSL's preseason and fighting for a place on either the first team or Monarchs roster.
Kreilach and Nyeman were subbed off after 30 minutes and replaced by draft picks Iljiah Paul and Amferny Sinclair, giving four of RSL's five draft picks playing time in the first half of the preseason opener.
Other lineup highlights for RSL included Anderson Julio starting as the lone striker after the departures of Sergio Cordova and Bobby Wood in the offseason, and backup goalkeeper Tomas Gomez starting in place of Zac MacMath, who is coming off an offseason operation and did not travel with the team.
With it being a preseason friendly, Mastroeni was able to make wholesale subs in the second half, bringing on an almost entirely new group for RSL.
Second half starting lineup for #RSL— Caleb Turner (@calebturner23) January 21, 2023
Orozco - Glad - Pierre - Oviedo
Ruiz - Caldwell
Mondi - Paul - Eneli
Rubio Rubin replaced Julio at striker, the fifth draft pick Emeka Eneli replaced Justin Meram on the wing, and Monarchs player Tyrone Mondi replaced Jacquesson on the opposite side. New homegrown signee Delentz Pierre joined RSL Academy product Jaziel Orozco on the back line, and 17-year-old Gavin Beavers replaced Gomez in goal.
"I think it's really important to make sure that the bottom part of the roster really pushes on the top," Mastroeni said. "And today was just that. So, older guys did a really great job leading the front lines, leading the midfield, leading the backline, and sprinkled in with the youth. As a collective performance, it's a very good reflection of what we've been able to really put together."
Costa Rican national team member and World Cup participant Bryan Oviedo also made his return to RSL's lineup in the second half after given extra time to arrive back in Utah from overseas. International players Jefferson Savarino and Jasper Loffelsend are still awaiting their returns due to immigration paperwork.
RSL sealed the 2-0 win in the 65th minute after Mondi went down in the box and Rubin converted the resulting penalty kick. Veteran RSL defender Justen Glad singled out Mondi earlier this week as an attacking player that has stood out to him during the early part of preseason training.
"I've been impressed — really impressed — with Tyrone," Glad told the media on Thursday. "I'm not even sure he's a winger, but he was playing winger. He was great the other day, but (all the young guys) are really talented. Excited to see who keeps progressing."