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Exhibition win vs. MetroStars lets RSL newcomers show off

SHARE Exhibition win vs. MetroStars lets RSL newcomers show off

BRADENTON, Fla. — Many of the fruits of Real Salt Lake's offseason labor were on display during Wednesday's exhibition game against the MetroStars.

Jeff Cunningham was flying around the field, taking on defenders with dangerous, attacking runs.

Douglas Sequeira was tactically sound, yet a physical presence in the midfield as well.

Carey Talley was a vocal, calming presence at the back who did everything a central defender is supposed to.

Three of RSL's five big offseason acquisitions made their debuts Wednesday, and it didn't take long for them to make believers out of coach John Ellinger and the rest of their teammates.

The trio of Cunningham, Sequeira and Talley helped RSL jump out to a 1-0 halftime lead, a lead the second-half subs protected as Salt Lake (2-0-0) held on for the 2-1 victory, its first over an MLS team at training camp.

"I think both teams were just trying to feel each other out a little bit," said Talley. "Overall, I don't think a team can ever complain about a result."

The ironic thing was, eight days into training camp, the team hasn't spent a lick of time on getting results. It's been all about fitness and technical stuff, so not surprisingly, RSL was a little out of sorts early on playing against the MetroStars' 3-5-2 formation.

Because the team wasn't prepped for attacking and defending the 3-5-2 , it took Salt Lake's players about 20 minutes or so for instinct to take over, and "we seemed to get more and more control of the game" as the half went on, Ellinger said.

In the 41st minute, shortly after Cunningham knocked a shot off the left post, RSL's continued effort was finally rewarded with a goal — a very good goal, no less.

Given space at the back, defender Chris Brown attacked the open area, then knocked the ball up ahead for right midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy to run onto. Demonstrating the poise and craftiness of a veteran, not a rookie, Ballouchy made a quick step-over move that sent MetroStars' defender Seth Stammler stumbling over himself. That gave Ballouchy plenty of time to pick his spot and fire a shot just inside the post.

MetroStars' keeper Tony Meola probably could've saved the ball, but he anticipated that Seth Trembly would try and redirect, which he didn't.

"I thought the first half we had some shape issues, but we kind of worked through them," said Ellinger. "The beginning of preseason, it's about fitness and getting comfortable with the ball, but we dealt with pressure well and seemed to be very comfortable playing out of the back."

With 10 new players and keeper Jay Nolly on the field in the second half, the coaching staff gave them a brief tip on attacking and defending the 3-5-2, and as a result RSL's organization was much better in the second 45.

Minutes into the second half, Salt Lake's Jamie Watson was taken down in the box by a swarm of MetroStars' defenders, and he stepped up to the spot and rifled the ball into the upper left-hand corner of the net for the 2-0 lead.

In the 60th minute, the MetroStars closed the gap to 2-1 as Mark Lisi uncorked a shot through a crowd of bodies and into the open net, as RSL keeper Nolly scrambled to get back on his line. Nolly came off his line to clear away a cross, but he redirected it to Lisi near the top of the box.

During the next 15 minutes, Nolly made two fantastic reactionary saves to keep RSL in front, including a save on former RSL teammate Jordan Cila, who was traded to the MetroStars a few weeks ago.

ENDLINES: Here's a look at RSL's lineup against the amateur team, with the player in parenthesis entering the game in the second half: Nolly, Gustavo Cabrera (Willis Forko), Nelson Akwari (Michael Lookingland), Talley (Nik Besago), Brown (Adolfo Gregorio), Sequeira (Kenny Cutler), Trembly (Ryan Johnson), Ballouchy (Kevin Novak), Diego Walsh (Tiger Fitzpatrick), Cunningham (Watson), Atiba Harris (Jeff Rowland).

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com