SANDY — Just as Freddy Juarez was about to walk up the Rio Tinto Stadium tunnel to talk to his team about overcoming a 1-0 deficit to Seattle on Wednesday, he turned to Giuseppe Rossi and told him to get ready.
And just like that, after 850 days of waiting, his chance had finally arrived.
“Two years and two months since the last time I played 45 minutes. It felt good. I got in a couple preseason games where I played a little bit more, but it’s always different when you’re playing for something more important. Felt good to be on the pitch, felt good to fight, felt good to feel as If I’m part of the team.” — Giuseppe Rossi
Rossi had made four brief substitute appearances for Real Salt Lake so far this year, but nothing that ever really extended the 33-year-old physically. Leading up to the Seattle game though, Rossi had obviously showed enough fitness in training that the coaches felt good giving him some extended minutes.
It was a special moment for Rossi, who hadn’t played that many minutes in a very long time.
“Two years and two months since the last time I played 45 minutes,” said Rossi. “It felt good. I got in a couple preseason games where I played a little bit more, but it’s always different when you’re playing for something more important. Felt good to be on the pitch, felt good to fight, felt good to feel as If I’m part of the team.”
Rossi didn’t have a direct hand in either of the goals as RSL rallied for the 2-2 draw, but he helped occupy Seattle’s center backs more regularly which freed up space for teammates.
He said the next step in trying to improve his fitness is simply getting more minutes, which he’ll be hoping for on Sunday when Real Salt Lake travels to Minnesota United (6 p.m., KMYU).
RSL has never won in Minnesota in three tries since the club joined MLS, giving up 10 goals in three games.
Rossi’s spark the past two games is something RSL may lean on again. After scoring late against Portland in the previews week in a 10-minute appearance, he added 35 more minutes against Seattle and thought he was effective for the most part.
“It was good. I wish I got on the ball more. I felt like there were some spaces, there were some times where I could’ve been a little more decisive. There are a lot of things that happen in the game,” said Rossi.
How often Rossi gets on the ball is a sign for the coaching staff about how his fitness is progressing.
“You want to be able to see him get on the ball at a high frequency,” said Juarez. “Players will use the excuse sometimes, I think, of ‘the game’s not finding me,’ and we get that. Sometimes the opponent doesn’t allow the play to go down the middle or they really complicate things, but then you have to be a player who finds the game.”
Rossi has a decade-plus of experience doing that in Europe and if his fitness keeps improving, it could be a big boost to the attack when he’s on the field.
RSL and Minnesota played to a 0-0 draw at the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando last month, where Juarez’s team struggled to find the back of the net with any regularity. In the three games since league play resumed, it has scored 10 goals in two ties and a win.
The results have helped RSL remain in a fourth-place tie in the Western Conference with four other teams, including Minnesota.