clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Real Salt Lake looks to make most of Martinez creativity in home opener

Real Salt Lake's Juan Martinez, center, dribbles in between two defenders in the second leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals match against the Mexican club Tigres of Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.
Real Salt Lake's Juan Martinez, center, dribbles in between two defenders in the second leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals match against the Mexican club Tigres of Monterrey at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.
Chris Samuels,

SANDY — One of the common themes mentioned by Real Salt Lake players this preseason when discussing why 2016 promises to be a better year was Juan Manual Martinez — and specifically the impact he could make in a full season.

There were definitely flashes of Martinez’s brilliance when he arrived in the summer transfer window last September, but it was tough to make a huge impact in just a couple months.

Teammates raved about the impact Martinez could have with a full preseason under his belt and having him on the field from day one.

The quality is already starting to manifest itself too.

In RSL’s second-leg match with Tigres and in last weekend’s season opener at Orlando, in both matches, Martinez showed his incredible ball skill in tight spaces to weave his way through two defenders while creating goal-scoring opportunities.

Against Tigres, that opportunity in the 72nd minute led to Javier Morales’ penalty kick — which unfortunately resulted in a rare Morales miss.

In Orlando, he split defenders twice. The first time occurred just 15 minutes into the game, and Martinez’s dancing around the endline freed himself up for a shot which was saved by the Orlando keepers shoulder.

In the second half he set up Joao Plata’s second goal by zig-zagging by a pair or Orlando defenders near the sideline.

“It seems sometimes like he’s on those escalators at the airport and the other guys are just on regular ground. He just keeps on cruising by them. It’s just his style. He’s not the fastest guy, but he sure looks it,” said RSL captain Kyle Beckerman.

Martinez will hope to wow fans and puzzle defenders yet again this Saturday when RSL kicks off its 2016 MLS home slate against rival Seattle (2 p.m., KMYU).

RSL coach Jeff Cassar said that Martinez’s presence is forcing opponents to make tactical adjustments.

“He occupies a lot of their players. You’re starting to see that one player can’t really defend him when it’s one vs. one out there. So maybe then they have to bring two or three players into that area and how can we exploit that,” said Cassar.

The Sounders are revamping their formation this season, which RSL knows from experience can come with a steep learning curve early in the season. The club’s talented quartet of attacking players will try and take advantage of that potential confusion.

Real Salt Lake’s attack was very promising in last week’s home draw with Tigres, and Cassar said it’s important for his players to feed off the Rio Tinto Stadium crowd again.

“This team definitely feeds off of our crowd's energy. The way we played against Tigres here at home was beautiful. We played with energy, with positive thoughts, with attacking thoughts and limited them to very, very few attacking plays. Why can’t we do that every home game,” said Cassar.

Beckerman said just as important will be RSL’s ability to corral Seattle forwards Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris, and avoid the defensive lapses that proven costly already in 2016.

“We’ve had great games with them. Hopefully we can continue to play well against them at home and get three points and keep moving forward,” said Beckerman.

Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: jedward@deseretnews.com