When Paulo Araujo Jr. was first signed by Real Salt Lake over a year ago, he made an immediate impact for the club. His first appearance was made at Rio Tinto Stadium during a CONCACAF Champions League group stage match against fellow MLS team Toronto FC. He was subbed in late in the match with everything to prove. He scored a goal minutes after coming on to complete a 4-1 thumping of Toronto.
The blooming forward was pretty unknown to RSL fans upon being brought in on loan by the Salt Lake side from the second tier of North American soccer. He was supposedly a good forward capable of scoring in the second division. Would that all-star success translate to his MLS play? The answer: Yes!
His fantastic form continued into the next season, 2011. During Real’s home opener against budding rivals LA Galaxy, Paulo was able to draw and PK that was scored by Javier Morales and score a goal in another 4-1 scoreline. At this point the forward’s last name had unofficially been changed from Araujo to Junior by endearing fans. The speedy youngster was everything a fan could ask for. He was a lightning quick forward with a keen talent of making back-post runs and finishing. The young forward had everything going for him. He was always the obvious choice as the third-string forward behind Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola.
Everything changed for Paulo after being injured for a big part of the 2011 season and never truly coming back to full form. His speed had been lost and he didn’t play as quickly or with enough urgency to really shine in the RSL XI.
Throughout the beginning of this season, the Brazilian native continued to struggle as he had during most of the 2011 season. He scored one goal on penalty kick against brand new expansion side Montreal. After several more months that must have been quite frustrating for Paulo Junior he was given news that he was to be loaned back out to the second division. This was an alert of sorts for Paulo. Almost a threat. This was his last chance. If he did well on the short-term loan, learned his lesson, and made an impact on Real Salt Lake similar to the one he made upon his first arrival, he would stay and earn some minutes. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t be seeing him in claret and cobalt much longer.
Paulo’s first match back from the loan spell was just yesterday against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Leading up to the game head coach Jason Kreis said that he’d been very impressed with Junior’s performance since returning to Salt Lake City. I am almost positive that nearly every Real fan let out an enormous sigh of relief at the moment that Paulo Jr. pulled a crafty move to round a Whitecaps defender and then sent in a lethal cross that landed right on the head of Nat Borchers, who directed the ball down into the back corner of the netting. It was Paulo Junior’s first assist of the season. Hopefully his short and promising performance shows that Paulo is really back for good. I can only feverishly hope that this assist of his ramps up to his production of more goals and assists later this season! If Paulo Jr. continues to perform and improve he could regain his title as one of the most exciting forwards to watch in MLS!
Good luck Paulo!!!
FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD
A fantastic and motivational RSL video made by a passionate fan of the Claret and Cobalt.
RSL loses yet another road game 2-1 against Western Conference contenders Vancouver Whitecaps.
Real fails to find the back of the net and falls 0-1 to rivals Colorado Rapids.
Real Salt Lake drops their first Champions League group stage game 0-1 on the road.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe. I doubt any Real Salt Lake fan had even heard the unusual name before the Salt Lake club signed him thanks to assistant coach C.J. Brown’s special relationship with the young player. He was drafted by the Chicago Fire several years ago. Kwame hardly got any minutes of playing time in his first three seasons in MLS. It was a rough start in professional soccer for Watson-Siriboe. Luckily for RSL, C.J. Brown, a former Chicago man himself, took particular interest in the new player from the University of Connecticut.
The young defender grew up in Chino Hills, California. While playing college soccer for UConn his senior year Kwame earned First Team All-Big East honors. What went on at Chicago is somewhat of a mystery. In the Fire’s coaching staff’s eyes, he must have been a player just waiting to make a breakthrough. He was always good enough to stay on the roster, but never quite ready to really make the jump to the first team. Either Chicago’s coaching staff was flat-out wrong, or being brought to Real Salt Lake was what it took for Kwame Watson-Siriboe to make the breakthrough that he’s waited for his whole career.
The ex-Chicago player chose to take on the number three on the back of his claret and cobalt jersey. Whether he knew it or not, that number formerly belonged to Real defender Robbie Russel, who played a major part in the club’s history. His conversion of his penalty kick in the 2009 MLS Cup gave Real Salt Lake the star above their crest. The legacy could continue as Kwame finds his way deeper into the roots of the club’s system. It’s really quite amazing the way he has been able to meld with the squad so quickly. The RSL Way seems almost second nature to Watson-Siriboe. He understands the role of a centerback clad in the Claret and Cobalt of Real Salt Lake. He has a strong presence. He’s solid, doesn’t let anything slip. If the ball gets past him, the player doesn’t. If the player gets past him, the ball doesn’t.
This role is especially crucial to fill for the club when looking into the future. Our two regular centerbacks, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (dubbed “Borlave” by Matthew Montgomery) are aging. As they age they grow more injury-prone and cost more to keep at the club. In other words, it is very improbable for both to stay at the club for many more seasons. Kwame Watson-Siriboe playing in his current form is exactly what RSL is in need of. A very athletic and capable central defender that understands his role and is able to play it extremely well.
Kwame really showed better than anyone else on the pitch, from both sides, today as Real Salt Lake took on the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite how agitated I was as a supporter seeing my team unable to create goals and play beautiful soccer, I couldn’t help but smile upon the spectacular composure and dedication of the new defender.
Real Salt Lake should be proud of their acquisition of the former Chicago defender. He has the potential to be one of the RSL greats. I have faith in him and can only hope for the best and wait.
UPWARD AND ONWARD
So what are we to expect from a Real Salt Lake side that has fared very well in their last several MLS matches and dropped an important CCL match 1-0 on the road in a game against their rivals that means nothing when it comes to the Rocky Mountain Cup?
Yes, that was a long, complicated question. Regardless of what people predict, it will be answered tonight. It’s still up in the air exactly when and for which games Real will be resting starters for, but the organization went out of their way to make several signings to prepare themselves for the upcoming stretch. Some of those signings need to start stepping up now.
We’ve already seen some of the guys further down the depth chart get their chance at first team action and several have excelled. Earlier in the season Emi Bonfigli was given an opportunity to show what he could do during the final minutes of a road game in Dallas, where RSL has historically struggled, he was able to step up and slot a shot into the back of the Dallas net to snatch back a point for Real. Despite his goal, his playing time really didn’t increase for the Claret and Cobalt, he still steps in when he needs to, but that’s usually only for the last several minutes of matches in which the outcome isn’t in any real doubt. I really believe Emi has real potential and will be a great asset for Real Salt Lake down the stretch, but the coaching staff hasn’t given him much time this season and I wouldn’t expect to see much of him tonight.
Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Kenny Mansally, our newcomers in the defense, have really stepped in well with Real, they were called upon from the moment they signed with Salt Lake. I’m really not sure how long these two will last at the club. They could end up becoming mainstays, or they could end up like most RSL mid-season additions and step in to fill injured players’ spots and then be subsequently waived when their spot is reclaimed. I really hope it’s not the latter. I’d expect Watson-Siriboe to step into the starting lineup in place of Jamison Olave who picked up an injury in our latest CONCACAF journey to Herediano of Costa Rica.
I do think there will be a change up top tonight given the bad form of Fabian Espindola in the clubs most recent fixture against their CCL foes. It’s happened before. Fabi loses his head and needs a little while to cool down, to come back and really be ready to contribute to the team. I don’t think he’ll feature much tonight, but he might get some minutes. In his place I think hometown boy Justin Braun will get the starting nod. He hasn’t had his chance yet with the first team and I’m sure the front office wants to see what he’ll do in a Real Salt Lake jersey. If he performs well tonight I’d expect him to slip right into the third-choice forward slot. The slot’s been up for grabs for a while since Paulo Jr. started to lose his form.
Here’s my starting XI:
Beltran : Borchers : Watson-Siriboe : Wingert
Johnson : Beckerman : Morales : Grabavoy
Braun : Saborio
GOOOOOOOOOO REAL SALT LAKE!!!
First and foremost I think you all deserve an apology from me and my lack of production and motivation over the last several weeks. Hopefully this won’t happen again and business will go on as usual. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my love for the Claret and Cobalt, I just wasn’t proclaiming it.
Now is when the standings really count. It’s as if all the points count for a lot more now. It’s around now that teams really start to regret dropping points during the early stages of the season when the standings didn’t matter. Turns out they did all along!
The Whitecaps sit 3rd place in the Western Conference standings only 5 points below Real, who sits 4 points behind league leaders San Jose. So Vancouver is 9 points out of the Supporters’ Shield race and probably won’t challenge for the best regular season record this year. They’ve played the same amount of games as Real Salt Lake, so if Real wins, it will really put some daylight between the two competitors and Salt Lake will be able to afford to put more extra emphasis on CCL with not as much worry of being caught up to from behind.
Real has come up front and declared that they refuse to look past this fixture against Vancouver. That’s all fine with me but I definitely have a hunch that they’ll be resting several starters for a good portion of the match and reserve them for next Tuesday’s CONCACAF clash against our Group 2 foes, namely the Costa Rican club, Herediano.
So who can you expect to play and what should you expect from the team in general?
I expect Yordany Alvarez, who played a fantastic game against Colorado last week to put in some minutes tonight. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he started and was eventually subbed off in the second half by Kyle Beckerman who put some time in for the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday. Hopefully his keen ability to strip the ball off his opponents in the center of the pitch will be on display for all to see once again!
Sebastian Velasquez is definitely a candidate to play tonight. The young fan favorite hasn’t had much time on the field lately, but given the circumstances and the kid’s potential, there’s a very good chance he’ll be playing.
Hometown boy Justin Braun could make his debut tonight in front of his local crowd. With Paulo gone on lone it’s gonna be either Justin or Emi Bonfigli stepping in for some forwards that are bound to get some rest with the Champions League in mind. I’d expect Justin to get the nod not because he’s better than Emi, but more because he hasn’t had his chance to show what he can do on the field for RSL and his exposure would be could for the club from a local standpoint. After all, almost every soccer-playing boy in the crowd has a dream of playing on that field in a Real Salt Lake jersey!
What I really want from my club tonight is a performance like the one from the first game of the season, the 3-1 victory in California over the LA Galaxy while missing several starters. That was one of those games that shoots the RSL Pride through any fan’s veins and shouts out to the rest of MLS what Real Salt Lake is really about! Those are the games that make being a diehard fan worth more than anything else.
LONG LIVE RSL!!!
RSL claims the Rocky Mountain Cup
Real falls to the Earthquakes 5-0