Herriman • In the middle of a rout over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union earlier this month, Everton Luiz proved he’s much more than a defensive-minded midfielder. He dispossessed a Union player at midfield and ran to about the 18-yard box before dropping a perfectly weighted pass for Damir Kreilach for the finish.
The sequence was different than what Luiz had shown for much of the season. He’s showcased his physical play time and time again, consistently breaking up plays in the midfield with tackles and clever use of his body strength. At times, that’s gotten him into trouble with the referees, like when he received a yellow card in his first-ever Major League Soccer appearance.
“He’s a pit bull,” RSL captain Kyle Beckerman said.
Through 21 games this season, Luiz appears to have settled in to his role and his team. Despite missing some time with a knee injury, the Brazilian has started 13 of the 15 games in which he has appeared — including six of the last seven — and notched two assists.
“I think he’s just getting more comfortable with all the teammates,” Beckerman. “The more games we play, I think we all kind of get in sync a bit more. I think that just off the field, he’s becoming more comfortable with everybody. And then on the field, we kind of know what to expect from him.”
Luiz came to Salt Lake on loan from Italian Serie A club S.P.A.L. He said through a translator that he was unhappy playing in Italy due to issues with the coaching staff and the league. When the opportunity to play for RSL arose, he didn’t think twice, he said.
Luiz said that before his time with Italy, he had an opportunity to sign with Orlando City SC, but the deal didn’t come to fruition. So he was excited when another opportunity to join an MLS club presented itself.
“Now that the contract is for real,” Luiz said, “I’m really happy with it.”
Luiz has made a career of being versatile in the midfield, but he wasn’t always as aggressive as he is now. As a youngster growing up in Porto Alegre, Brazil, playing in the large field in front of his house before taking up soccer classes and also playing futsal, Luiz served mostly as an attacker.
But as he got further along in soccer and he started finding himself in deeper positions on the field, Luiz discovered a different side to his game.
“As my career progressed, I realized that I was more and more aggressive and I could hit harder,” Luiz said.
That particular attribute has helped his developing partnership with Beckerman, the other defensive midfielder in RSL’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Before Luiz joined the team this season, Beckerman was essentially the sole enforcer in the midfield, particularly with the departure of Sunday Stephen.
But assistant coach Freddy Juarez said having Luiz gives Beckerman the opportunity to share that responsibility.
“It helps out when you’re with a double pivot — or holding mid, however you want to call it — and they can be just as hard as you,” Juarez said. “It’s good to have that type of partnership so you’re not so you’re not always the only guy that’s counted upon to destroy the game for the opponent.”
Juarez has noticed Luiz’s ability in the attack as well. He said players in Luiz and Beckerman’s positions are generally not expected by opponents to be creators on the field. So for Luiz to unveil that aspect of his game at certain times on the field is icing on the cake.
“If you can have a center mid that not only he does the dirty work, that when a chance presents itself to take space or give a pass that can create something,” Juarez said, “then it’s great when you can have it.”
Luiz knows he’s not going to score many goals. So his main focus as a member of RSL is to play good defense and be an asset to his team in whatever way it needs, he said.
“I feel I’m doing really well at that and fulfilling my end of it,” Luiz said. “I’m giving it all on the field so I can help the team as much as I can.”
REAL SALT LAKE AT FC DALLAS
At Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Kickoff » Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV » KMYU
Radio » 700 AM
Last meeting » Dallas 4, RSL 2 (March 30, 2018)
Records » RSL 9-9-3 (7th in West), Dallas 9-8-5 (6th in West)
About Dallas » Coming off two wins, two losses and a draw in the last five games. … Jesus Ferreira and Dominque Badji both lead team with six goals apiece. … Young star Paxton Pomykal has received interest from several clubs overseas. … Organization has signed 26 homegrown players in its history, the most of any MLS team.
About RSL » Currently on a six-game unbeaten streak at home in MLS play. … Played with 10 men on the field for majority of previous meeting with Dallas at Rio Tinto. … Lineup rotation expected after playing in Leagues Cup game on Wednesday. … Two points behind Dallas in the Western Conference standings. … Assistant coach Freddy Juarez said playing Tigres was a good test coming into Dallas because both teams have similar styles of play.