With the CONCACAF Champions League match tied 1-1 between Real Salt Lake and Santa Tecla of El Salvador, head coach Jeff Cassar made his biggest change yet.
Bouncing up and down like a jack in the box on the sideline, waiting to make his entrance into the game in the 72nd minute was RSL forward Juan Manuel Martinez–better known as Burrito.
Five minutes later, the game was no longer tied up and no acid indigestion or spicy aftertaste and belch occurred from watching this product of Argentina, of storied South American clubs like Boca Juniors and Corinthians.
Here then, before your very eyes was No. 22 with the chiseled chin and tattoos adorning his arms like byzantine vines–your newest designated player, Utah. Yet unlike other DP’s–like Dr. Goals, for example–this guy can play. You don’t need glorious YouTube videos to see as much. Exhibit A? The 77th minute.
That’s when Martinez slipped behind a defender and chipped the keeper just after Javier Morales megged a defender and played in a splendid through ball. The whole sequence took about 20 seconds to complete, but man, was it like watching poetry on a soccer pitch or what? Let’s recap. Martinez came into the game in the 72nd minute–and scored in the 77th. Adjectives? The head coach certainly had some.
“It’s beautiful. It raises the confidence of the whole club. There is a lot of playing and moving because they know they will get the ball right back,” said Cassar of Martinez and his mates play. “They know that the quality is there. When you have that confidence, your runs are better, your reactions are better.”
Burrito had the game winner, Morales the assist. Most important was that RSL won 2-1 Thursday over a game Santa Tecla team that nearly stole a point by scoring an improbable counterattack goal over the top in the 61st minute–followed by an emphatic response from the head of Olmes Garcia four minutes later.
It was crazy to think that it had come to this before Burrito made his grand entrance, but RSL has had a way of making things interesting this season. Learning how to play in this 4-3-3 system has been a walking and running nightmare for RSL fans watching their players struggle for most of the season.
But, there appears to be light at the end of this tunnel of a season. RSL players are beginning to find ways out and ways into that light, that space near the top of the penalty box that defenders often leave when they know there is nothing they can do to stop someone like Burrito, or a team that is beginning to play like everyone thought it would.
Now atop its CONCACAF Champions League group with one game left in group play and with life in the race for the last Western Conference playoff spot, RSL appears to be ready for battle with help from its newest general.