By Layton Shumway
The result might have been disappointing, but Real Salt Lake”s future looks bright.
Despite a last-second equalizer from FC Dallas” Carlos Ruiz, RSL proved in its opening game that it made all the right moves in the offseason, including the much-publicized addition of midfielder Freddy Adu.
RSL took the field Saturday with four new starters, as well as a new 4-5-1 formation that allows Adu and midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy to concentrate on attacking without worrying as much about dropping back into defense.
The impact was easy to see, as Ballouchy was active, delivering incisive passes in the attacking third of the field. Adu also spent much of the first half abusing the left side of the Dallas defense.
“We wanted to put more pressure on them right from the start,” RSL coach John Ellinger said. “I thought Freddy played well. In the first half he had a big impact for us.”
Adu, a 17-year-old from Ghana, was traded to RSL from D.C. United this winter. In the weeks leading up to Saturday”s game, he had spoken of his excitement to come to a new team and to be given more of an opportunity to shine. That excitement was apparent in his play against FC Dallas, although he still has a ways to go.
“I felt like I was more involved in the first half,” Adu said. “Playing that position is hard, because there”s certain times where you”re just wide open and not getting [the ball]. I could have played better, but the team played very well.”
One team member Adu mentioned was forward Jeff Cunningham. Rather than pairing Cunningham with another forward, the 4-5-1 formation leaves Cunningham alone at the top, with Adu, Ballouchy and midfielder Chris Klein to support him.
The formation paid off, as Cunningham, the league”s leading scorer last season, notched two goals against Dallas.
Ballouchy, RSL”s top draft pick last year, expressed his excitement at playing in the new formation.
“I think everybody likes it,” Ballouchy said. “I think [attacking midfield] is where I play my best.”
Team captain Jason Kreis summed up RSL”s offseason changes by emphasizing the team”s versatility.
“We have confidence, and we should,” Kreis said. “We have guys that want to lift the piano, and we have guys that want to touch the keys. We have some special players that can do some special things.”