Salt Lake (and Highland High School) got to see a native son earn his first Major League Soccer start Saturday night against one of MLS' most dangerous attacks in the Columbus Crew. Three of four RSL defenders were not traditional starters. And Luis Gil and Abdoulie Mansally were filling in for Morales and Phillips who were sitting on red cards Saturday. It was exciting for Phanuel Kavita and Salt Lake soccer fans, but not necessarily the ideal line-up to clean up a lackluster MLS record and hopefully build momentum with a number of RSL starts leaving for Gold Cup duty.
At least that's what you might have thought. But 36 minutes into the game, in what looked like a cleverly drawn up play, Luke Mulholland connected with Joao Plata on a free kick from just outside the 18-yard box and Plata in turn gave the ball up to a wide-open Olmes Garcia from 4 feet out for the game's opening goal. Columbus' Tony Tchani answered back only six minutes later with an equalizer going into the half.
RSL's Sebastian Jaime earned his second goal of the season a minute into the second half when he snuck around Columbus' Emanuel Pogatetz into a 2-yard gap between the defender and Columbus goalie Steve Clark to chip the keeper for RSL's second goal of the game.
Nick Rimando (GK), 9, seemed bound and determined to head off to Gold Cup duty with a win in his pocket. While his team on the field seemed equally determined to keep shots from getting to him, Rimando ended up with two sneaking past. The first was unsavable. The second, slightly less unsavable but still not much Rimando could do. He did have some terrific saves to keep RSL tied, especially after Jordan Allen's ejection. But it was his distribution that was on showcase Saturday. Numerous times, the famous Rimando side-volley or power roll set up fast breaks, with one nearly earning Rimando an assist off a Joao Plata shot on goal.
Abdoulie Mansally (DEF), 7, seemed slightly out of sorts Saturday night. Passes and crosses were less crisp than we're used to seeing from the vet. He took a good knock in the first half that certainly played into his tough night and he ended up being subbed out in the 66th minute.
Aaron Maund (DEF), 5, continues to be called upon to do more than he's capable. RSL missed much-needed leadership at the central back position Saturday night. RSL fans expect a very high level of maturity at the back line with the likes of Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave and Chris Schuler having played the position most recently. Maund struggled with his positioning and didn't do enough to keep his back line focused. Both Columbus goals came off defensive mistakes, the second in particular saw Maund ball-watching when he might have stepped up and put pressure on Federico Higuain to at least challenge the cross that gave Columbus the tying goal.
Phanuel Kavita (DEF), 8, ended up having the stronger game of the two RSL central backs. His marking was quite good and his shape awareness showed maturity beyond his years. A fluke on his MLS debut? Not if you believe what the RSL staff are saying about Kavita. Another start might help settle the issue.
Tony Beltran (DEF), 6, was especially eager to get into the attack Saturday night, where he was quite good, but he struggled to get back on defense and was even caught ball-watching a couple of times — in the 62nd minute it turned out to be detrimental as Columbus' Ethan Finlay streaked his way past Beltran and into the box to connect with a Federico Higuain assist to tie the game.
Luke Mulholland (MID), 9, is cementing himself as a key to RSL's potential for success. Saturday night, Mulholland got the start at right midfielder where he laid everything on the line in the near 100 degree heat. In Javier Morales' absence, Mulholland seemed to take on the role of creator in the midfield while being everywhere he needed to be defensively and offensively. He even took the creative free kick in the 36th minute that Joao Plata put on a platter for Olmes Garcia to score.
Kyle Beckerman (MID), 10, shared the defensive midfield space with Luke Mulholland much of the night where the two traded off sorties into attacking space. It cannot be stated how important Beckerman was to keeping Columbus from shredding the young tandem in RSL's central back line, especially given how out of shape it too often was. And while he did not create as many offensive chances as Mulholland, he was an important reason RSL maintained attacking momentum for the first 75 minutes of the game — until RSL went a man down.
Luis Gil (MID), 7 — With Javier Morales out with a red card from Wednesday's game, Gil started in the middle. Unfortunately, he continues to struggle when starting in the center midfielder position, especially when RSL is playing any version of a 4-3-3. While certainly not detrimental to the team, Gil struggled to connect the buildup out of the back to dangerous setups in the final third. Some passes into the box just zigged when his forwards were zagging. But when Gil himself made it into the box to find the receiving end of an attacking pass, he was quite good.
Sebastian Jaime (FWD), 10, is finally settling into his winging striker role with Plata back and the 4-3-3 lineup RSL staff were so vocal about early in the season. He played well when holding up the ball, as well as with the ball at his feet. Jaime gave RSL's first goal of the night strong contention for goal of the week when he snuck around Columbus defender Emanuel Pogatetz as he was attempting to shield the ball back into Columbus ’keeper Steve Clark's hands, and found enough room between the two to chip Clark and give RSL its second goal of the night. He was man of the match.
Olmes Garcia (FWD), 9, got the start Saturday with Devon Sandoval sitting on the bench for some well-earned rest and Alvaro Saborio out prepping for the Gold Cup. Garcia supporters had to be happy to see the young striker play some of his best soccer of the season. He put in a solid effort getting back to defend and was very good in a holding capacity without a true post-up striker on the field. And while still a bit immature at times in his decisions, his speed, especially combined with that of Plata's and Jamie's, gave Columbus' back line fits. His perfectly executed goal in the 37th minute will surely be a contender for goal of the week.
Joao Plata (FWD), 9, is back. Saturday night Plata showed the speed, craftiness and skill that made him a strong contender for RSL's most valuable player last season before he missed the last half of the season with a foot injury. He was especially dangerous with the ball at his feet going against Columbus' big back line. Plata ended the night with three solid shots on goal and an assist.
Jordan Allen (SUB 66', DEF), 7, came on for Abdoulie Mansally. He was given a red card in the 77th minute for an unfortunate slip in the midfield that saw his spikes come too close to Columbus' Tony Tchani.
Devon Sandoval (SUB 66', FWD), 7, came on for Sebastian Jaime. He was in the right places at the right time, but his touch was not as good as it's been, particularly in post-up play.
Boyd Okwuonu (SUB, 78', DEF), 8, was brought on to fill in for red-carded Jordan Allen. Okwuonu was called on to do a lot to keep the draw intact after Jordan Allen was ejected. The young defender did well out of his natural right defensive position and with so much pressure out of the gate.
Chris Higbee writes the RSL player report card for all RSL home games.