Real Salt Lake’s Offseason Report CardHow did RSL do in an offseason where it began experimenting with change?
by Chris Enger | Wednesday, February 27, 2013
We all knew what the offseason was going to look like for Real Salt Lake. It was the first time in four years that the core of the team was going to be shaken up and shifted around. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. But let’s grade RSL’s offseason and talk about season predictions.
Nick Rimando will continue to start for Real Salt Lake until he finally decides to hang up his cleats. He’s earned that ability. And although his shot stopping skill has only improved with time, last year saw a dip in his form and he made more errors than fans are accustomed to. But as long as he wants to play, I doubt RSL ever trades or releases him.
What will be the biggest question mark in 2013 is his national team duty. Rimando has been on continual rotation as the third goalkeeper for the US Men’s National Team over the last cycle, and that may mean he leaves to train with the nationals or to stay with the club. Either way, Rimando has also earned this honor.
What’s surprising is the recent signing of Josh Saunders, who was released from the LA Galaxy after the club won a second straight MLS Cup.
I fell out of my chair when I learned Saunders was training with RSL this preseason and jumped for joy when they signed him. I know he was an easy target due to his off the field problems, but the keeper did a great job between the pipes for the Galaxy over the last two years. Now we have an excellent option to fill Rimando’s place if he’s ever called up to national team duty or decides to leave the team.
Offseason grade: A
The biggest trade in the RSL offseason was the off-loading of stalwart MLS defender Jamison Olave to New York for allocation cash. Olave was and will always be a fan favorite. He improved annually until his name was brought up for MLS Defender of the Year.
But his knees were never truly healthy, and his lingering leg injuries were a direct result of the constant beating to his knees. Although he would start for RSL when he was healthy, there was a lot of talk about how healthy he would be. How many games may he miss? Those will be questions New York will have to answer now.
To fill his place and massive shoes, the club has re-signed Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe. Along with Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, that’s a decent and serviceable back line. Nat Borchers’ health has been a concern this offseason, and in the preseason fans saw how massively important Nat is to the defense.
Borchers provides a strong veteran presence desperately needed by both Schuler and Watson-Siriboe. When Schuler and Watson-Siriboe play together, there are noticeable drops in defensive cohesion. It’s frightening early on but will work itself out in time, especially with Borchers aiding them.
Added to the defensive line are Aaron Maund, Lovel Palmer, home-grown player Carlos Salcedo and the speedy and versatile Kenny Mensally. The starting 4 will always be Wingert, Beltran, Borchers and the Schuler/Watson-Siriboe rotation, but it is nice to have so many defenders this year when it seemed like RSL held it together last year.
I still have my reservations with the substitutes but if the starters remain healthy the defense looks to be nearly as good as in the previous four years.
Offseason Grade: B
I was shocked when I learned Will Johnson was traded to Portland. He was one of my favorite players with RSL based on his bulldog tenacity and the ability to work more than I thought humanly possible.
The hole he leaves won’t be easy to replace, but RSL does what has to do in finding midfielders who can play in the manager Jason Kreis diamond formation.
RSL also re-signed Javier Morales locking up the oft injured playmaker maestro until 2015.
The best part about this year will be seeing the young guns trying to fill these open spots available this year. The highlight of the preseason is the early form of Sebastian Velasquez and rookie John Stertzer, who are both trying to fill the Will Johnson hole and the gap left by the Morales injury.
Both players played aggressively throughout the preseason and were in on most of the goal scoring opportunities for the club in Arizona.
Add to that talent pool US U-20 international Luis Gil, Portugese player Divid Viana, former San Jose vet Khari Stephensen, 2012 first round pick Enzo Martinez, Yordany Alvarez, Cole Grossman, Ned Grabavoy and, of course, the captain Kyle Beckerman, and it is clear to see why the midfield continues to be the strength of the team.
The battles that will be had to try and crack the starting XI should be amazing as Kreis and RSL General Manager Garth Lagerway have put together a great midfield going into 2013.
Offseason Grade: A
Last year the forward pool consisted of Alvaro Saborio …
And that was pretty much about it.
Fabian Espindola was a fan favorite but he missed more open net chances than he should of, and that inconsistent scoring alongside his emotional tirades helped send him packing to New York with Olave.
[Side Note: I loved Espindola. He had all the tools to be a great player. The way he let his emotions affect his play is partly why he is no longer with RSL.]
RSL then traded Paulo Jr, and by the time 2013 rolled around, Saborio was the only forward on the RSL roster.
Over the last three weeks, Lagerway has been Jedi-mind-tricking other GMs and poof, what was once one forward became five quality forwards seemingly overnight.
Speedster Robbie Findley returned from Europe and his rights were traded back to RSL, talented youngster Joao Plata was basically given to RSL for free and Devon Sandoval was drafted. Now Saborio has some great talent to play with him, but there was still one piece missing.
The last player brought into camp was Colombian youngster Olmes Garcia. The kid is 6-foot, 175 pounds, big and a fast forward. He’s the reason why I love how Kreis and Lagerway look at building a team. They choose young and South American over old and European. They are building a team with technically gifted players and the motivation is to play soccer the right way: quick passes and holding possession.
Off season grade: A
The fans are going to love Joao Plata. They will fall in love with him instantly and Plata is going to love playing for a team that will win a couple of games more than his last club. Plata’s style fits so much better with Kreis than any coach over in Toronto. The forward is fast and great with the ball at his feet. He also isn’t afraid to take on players.
Look at his first start in Arizona – he scored in the first minute. Plata is going to have a huge season this year especially playing when playing with a forward who is as good as holding up the ball as Saborio. More goals will be scored this year than last and the brunt of the work will no longer be just on Saborio’s shoulders.
My big concern, though, is the defense. As we saw against a second-string Seattle team in Arizona, the team struggled with Borchers. The team will need him and the rest of the back line healthy to gain any true success.
RSL could be losing the services of Saborio, Beckerman and Rimando due to national team call ups for World Cup Qualifying. It is a fantastic honor for the players and the team, and they should be proud to be called up. It looks like Lagerway has prepared for the FIFA weekends by signing more depth.
Now, I said last year that RSL would finish third behind LA and Seattle and that was as close as can be to the truth, considering RSL finished tied for 2nd with Seattle.
This year, RSL will finish in 3rd place. They will need time to get the new pieces playing well together and to get the other players back from injury. Look for the squad to be a fine-tuned machine come the midway point in the season. They will be vying for that home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Let the season begin.
NEXT UP: March 3 – Real Salt Lake vs San Jose Earthquakes, Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. 10 p.m. EST, MLS Live.