A look at Real Salt Lake’s extreme makeover, and why it just might leave RSL a much stronger team

By IVES GALARCEP

At first glance, Real Salt Lake’s handful of major roster moves on Monday might have been seen as an act of desperation for a club in dire need of salary cap relief. A closer look reveal the calculated maneuvering of a front office that knows more than most just what it takes to rebuild a team and keep it competitive.

Anyone who has followed Major League Soccer long enough knows that keeping very good teams together for extended periods of time is next to impossible. Sustained success leads to increased salary demands and, over time, a strong nucleus becomes too expensive to keep together.

This process has forced many of the league’s so-called dynasties to be broken up. The early D.C. United teams were eventually taken apart, as was the San Jose Earthquakes side that won multiple titles. The two-time defending champion LA Galaxy will have to start making major changes as well very soon.

Real Salt Lake is in a similar situation, only the big difference is this RSL team didn’t win multiple championships. RSL won the 2009 MLS Cup, but fell short in the subsequent three years despite having one of the stronger teams in the league. The failure to win a second trophy didn’t stop RSL’s best players from continuing to play well and earn bigger salaries, which made this off-season’s reconstruction project inevitable.

So if you can’t avoid it, you have no choice but to be ready for when it comes, and RSL is as prepared as a team could be to handle a roster shake-up. Here is a closer look at what RSL has done, and what they have left to do.

Developing replacements

Having to part ways with effective starters is made much easier when you have already developed players capable of replacing those you are forced to trade or release. As imposing a defender as Jamison Olave is, his history of injury issues has allowed RSL to see plenty of Chris Schuler in recent years and Schuler has all the characteristics to become a top-notch centerback. Kwame Watson-Siriboe also looked to be a viable option as well after stepping in and starting soon after being acquired from Chicago.

Then you have Will Johnson, who seems like an indispensable piece to the puzzle. RSL had a chance to give Luis Gil heavy minutes in 2012 and the young midfielder impressed considerably, looking every bit like a player worth keeping in the lineup. That made parting with Johnson and his high salary ($243,750 in 2012, sure to be higher in 2013) that much easier.

By trading a trio of starters for a large haul of allocation money believed to be more than $500,000, RSL not only became a younger team, they also cleared serious cap space to re-sign players like Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran. They also helped create room for the sizable cap hit Gil’s contract will deliver in 2013. The maneuvers also give the team some wiggle room as RSL begin negotations with playmaker Javier Morales.

Real Salt Lake also has the resources now to sign a forward, a position that became a glaring need in 2012 as mis-firing forwards left the RSL attack looking toothless in key moments, both in the MLS playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League.

So what might the team look like in 2013? Here is one projection:

————-Saborio———-New Forward———–

———————–Morales—————————-

———Gil——————————–Grabavoy—–

———————-Beckerman————————–

Wingert——-Schuler——-Borchers———-Beltran

————————Rimando—————————-

If Gil continues to improve and if Schuler lives up to the standard he has shown in recent years, RSL will remain right in the conversation among the top teams in MLS. And if general manager Garth Lagerwey and head coach Jason Kreis can land a quality forward to partner with Saborio, RSL could wind up coming through their extreme makeover an even stronger team than they were a year ago.

And if things go badly? If Gill can’t handle a bigger role, or if Schuler doesn’t blossom in a full-time role? RSL could wind up struggling, but still has too much quality to slip too far. The team has set itself up with the roster flexibility to make more changes a year from now if necessary, only it won’t be as dramatic a makeover as the one the team just went through.

Parting with some key players wasn’t easy, but RSL has handled the process very well and signs point to a team that should be just as good, if not better, in 2013.

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55 Responses to A look at Real Salt Lake’s extreme makeover, and why it just might leave RSL a much stronger team

  1. The Truth says:

    Morales hasn’t been the same since the injury, and all he does now is go to ground looking for fouls.
    He is not the answer. We should try to get Warner back from Montreal.

    • Zac Mac says:

      This was Javi’s first full season back after a potentially career ending injury. A full, fit off-season will be good for him, and he’ll be better than he was this year. Collen Warner was good, but nowhere near the playmaker that Morales is. I would love to have Warner as a backup, or to slot in on the side, but Javi is head and shoulders above him. Gil is a better No 10 than Warner was anyways. RSLTID

      • JD23UT says:

        I think it is great that Morales has come back from such a bad injury, but he may never regain the form he had. I recognize it has only been a year, but that doesn’t mean time will make him better. We will have to keep our fingers crossed because no one knows for sure.

    • Georg says:

      Sorry but Morales is looking better and will be a key to RSL’s success next season, getting fouled and looking to get fouled are not the same. Warner can stay where he is Javi is still the real deal.

    • Georg says:

      Sorry but Morales is looking better and will be a key to RSL’s success next season, getting fouled and looking to get fouled are not the same. Warner can stay where he is Javi is still the real deal.

  2. Rogersd03 says:

    $244k is to much to pay per year for a starting forward? American football players that are on an NFLs practice squad make $250k. Getting $250k a year to practice. What the MLS needs is more revenue thus keeping core players on squads.

    • Hogatroge says:

      What the MLS needs is more revenue thus keeping core players on squads.

      In other news, water is wet.

    • scott47a says:

      Did you see the TV ratings for the cup? Given how little Americans (other than those of us here) seem to care, the money is more than adequate for the job being performed.

      • trevor says:

        I didn’t see or hear anything about the ratings. What were they or where can I find them?

        I didn’t underatand why it was not a Saturday night game. I think It would have done better.

        • patrick says:

          conference football championships saturday night

          • OPMG says:

            SEC no less

            • JS says:

              Actually, MLS Cup went head-to-head with the SEC title game (which kicked off at 4 pm ET). If MLS Cup had been at 7 or 8 pm ET, it would have been going up against the Big Ten title game, ACC title game and K-State v Texas. Basically it boiled down to a choice between the lesser of two evils.

              • Sal says:

                These are 2 different markets. Southerners don’t watch soccer. A night game would have been better.

              • Andy says:

                Southerners definitely watch soccer, Sal. Well, we do in Texas at least. It’s huge in Houston, Austin, and Dallas.

    • bigprof says:

      i know he’ll be 30 in Jan, but Wondo will still be lethal for RSL. Trust me, Wolff aint gonna give him DP money

  3. patrick says:

    man, 500K allocation plus the cap space cleared from Olave Johnson and Espindola means roughly $1million to spend. That’s scary for a lot of other teams

  4. Little Meow says:

    San Jose’s title winning teams weren’t broken up. They won their MLS Cups in 01 and 03, the Supporters Shield in 05 (their last season in SJ), and then Houston went on to win then next two MLS Cups with basically the same team.

  5. CSD says:

    This also shows how a team like NRYB prefers to go with the method of not developing players.

    • Nic D "The TX 2 Stepper" says:

      To be fair …

      Nevrmind, PINK COWS SUCK!

      • Nic D "The TX 2 Stepper" says:

        Seriously though, RSL had to play the young kids due to fatigue and injuries and intl. call ups and such. The kids didn’t get run outs because of an INTENTIONAL plan to give minutes. This is also true of most other sporting organizations. If the kids don’t force the manager’s hand, they usually ride pine or kick rocks.

        • Dylan Shilton says:

          It does not matter whether the team intentionally played then or not, they were played and they were ready which means that the young players had been developed none the less. Your response indicates that you are saying that he claimed that the players were intentionally played which he was not.

  6. bottlcaps says:

    It seems to m that the formula for success is not too complicated.

    1 Bring in rookie/college defensive backs (real small salaries)
    2.. Have at least one or two backs be over-the-hill vets (30-33yrs) with USMNT & WC experience. (too old for Europe and just glad to get on a good team)
    3. Bring in technically skilled Central Americans for at least 1-2 midfield spot.
    4. Bring in one tactically and strategically astute but young brazilian midfield (mderate salary)
    5. Have at least one midfield spot reserved for a DP that is all the above, but with FNT (foreign BNt, Team/WC) experience. Heavy Salary
    6. Bring in a proven scorer from Latin America or Europe. (Heavy salary)
    7. Bring in a proven college scorer. (most seem to do well in the MLS) as winger.forward. modest salary.

    DO NOT BRING IN A DEFENDER AS A DP. This is a no win situation, Yeah they are skilled and can read the game well. But this is the MLS and speed and athleticism frequently expose defenders who might be not fast enough.

  7. ed - houston says:

    i don’t know, i think they will be waker when its all said and done.

  8. OPMG says:

    I agree with Ives, the starting XI could still be very good if younger players are ready to step up and if they find the right forward to pair with Sabo. I wish this article had some content regarding RSL’s depth and if RSL feels like any of the reserve players are ready to step up and play bigger roles off the bench. We saw a bit of Velasquez and Watson-Siriboe last year, but not much of anybody else who’s still on the roster. Is Enzo Martinez ready to bring a spark off the bench? Can Viana step up and play more minutes if Javi gets hurt or can’t play as many minutes? There are a lot of question marks around RSL’s bench still and it seems to take a while to get any new players playing at a level that Kreis is satisfied with before they see the field.

  9. Idaho Brian says:

    Great analysis Ives. At first glance, many RSL fans are reacting negatively to yesterday’s trades…which I understand, (its tough to see good players sent packing). However, the front office with RSL is setting the team up to remain a championship caliber team for years to come. Your projected lineup for next season is of course extremely similar to what RSL put out on the field during many games in 2012, (except for the new forward). I personally feel this is an offseason to be excited about as an RSL fan…I look forward to seeing what new talent is brought in and how young talent like Gil and Shuler continue to develop.

    • JRP says:

      There are few who have reacted negatively. Many have reacted with shock but not negativity. Like you stated it is not like RSL fans have a lack of trust for the front office.

  10. Nick says:

    Excited about this just because it means more Luis Gil. Ives/RSL fans, how much has he developed? Does he still have the look of a potential international difference maker?

    • Paul Dickov says:

      IMO he hasn’t shown as much promise or potential for a number of reasons, most of them not his fault. In RSL’s diamond midfield he’s playing out of his natural and preferred midfield position. Personally I’d like to see him attack more and be involved in link up play with the strikers, but that’s difficult to do with Kreis’s philosophy of total team defense. I think this will be an interesting season for Luis – particularly if he can garner more time in attack.

      • atd says:

        I very much agree with this. Very talented kid with a great first touch, good vision, and a willingness to shoulder his defensive responsibilities, but he hasn’t figured out how to fit into the broader scheme. It’s true that he doesn’t fit easily into RSL’s system — he’s not a Morales-style #10, nor a Johnson-style carrilero — but the broader issue is that he just hasn’t learned to move off the ball. Once he figures that out, the sky’s the limit.

    • Bobb says:

      Not yet. He is good but he needs to improve just about every aspect of his game. RSL is a good spot for him to do that, though, playing with guys like Morales…

  11. Hincha Tim says:

    1) RSL is looking to renegotiate Morales’ salary down, not up.
    2) I believe Javi will regain form next year. He was still working through issues from his injury this year, and his game does not depend on speed/athletism so aging is less of a problem.
    3) I am as excited to see what Velasquez, E. Martinez, and Viana can do as what Gil can do. All are young, have exciting potential. The fact is, when you have Javi, Beckerman, and Grabavoy that can take up 3 of the 4 midfield positions, if need be, you only need one of those 4 to live up to their potential to have a great midfield.
    4) What is never spoken about, in the dearth of goals that RSL experienced, is that a lot of the blame has to be shouldered by Kreis and his tactics. The blame has been put on players’ performance but the fact is that Kreis never had the team attack in numbers in the attacking third that is necessary to score goals. It’s difficult to score goals when you have only 1-2 players in the penalty area. Because he is so over the top about defense and keeping a clean sheet, he kept too many players back, especially his midfielders, who should have been moving into the attack and not holding back.

    • Bandeeto says:

      Kreis knows that defense wins championships.

      Name one game leading up to, and during the playoffs that RSL didn’t waste multiple quality scoring opportunities. When a team consistently gets chances to score, that’s an indication of effective tactics. When individual payers squander scoring chances, or even fail to steer shots on goal, that says more about the individual player (and maybe training?) than tactics.

      Kreis facts do have room for improvement at times, but they consistently put RSL in a good position to compete, and even win, games against high quality opponents. It’s the bunker and counter, a tactic that was used more frequently, that RSL falls to most frequently.

    • Neruda says:

      The comment about Kreis is true in a lot of ways but given his ever changing CB pairing he never had complete confidence in his defense. He always depended on defensive mids like Will J to focus more on defense. Of course Wingert and Beltran are good going forward from the outside back spots.

      I just heard Javi Morales is interested in moving to Mexico so there is a chance he won’t be back with RSL. Losing Morales obviously frees up a bunch of money and given his rebuilt leg, age and salary demands then it may also end up benefiting RSL. Javi with a renegotiated (lower based) contract on RSL makes a lot of sense still.

    • Georg says:

      Very well said. Kries is a young coach and needs to step up every bit as much as his players.

    • Gary Page says:

      Considering that Kreis was a striker who held the record for career goals for several years, I guess you could say this is ironic.

    • bj says:

      Hincha…I agree with statement 4…which is why I think many are skeptical of the moves. If we’re going to claim Javi will be better after recovery, we should also say Olave will be better as well. He was and is head and shoulders above the other defenders in speed and size to defend, which left some gaping holes when he was gone. Sending him does not make the defense better. As for sending resources forward, which was always my biggest complaint in watching RSL (they always play back not forward) letting Espindola go is not helping in the effort to go forward. While Sabo cherry picked and was often fed by the work of Espindola, Epsindola and others did all the work to make things happen.

  12. Original Aaron says:

    On more than one occasion Kreis stated in interviews how frustrated he was that RSL wasn’t getting numbers forward into the attack, that if they wanted to score goals they needed to get more runners into the box, yada, yada, yada… pretty much exactly what you said in your post. So I don’t think the issue is Kreis’ tactics, as clearly he wanted the players to get forward. The issue is the players’ poor execution of his tactics.

    • Hincha Tim says:

      Maybe its what he said, but it was his selection of players. If you want more attacking verve, why would you put in Jonny Steele and not Valesquez. Certain players are more comfortable playing a certain way. Over and over again, Kreis did not put players in the midfield who were naturally attacking players. Valesquez provided that attacking spark when he went in, but he was used sparingly (supposedly because he wasn’t tracking back well enough). Kreis made a decision that tracking back was more important than getting forward. Because of this, RSL did well defensively at the end of the year, but paid the price by not scoring goals.
      And Bandeeto, RSL did not have a lot of scoring chances that they simply didn’t capitalize on. They had very few scoring chances, overall.
      Kreis likes to say that “Fortune Favors the Bold” but he coached very meekly this year (watch how RSL played against Seattle when they were a man up for almost 70 minutes). Hopefully, next year, he coaches to his motto again. And, by the way, I think JK is a good coach, but I don’t think he had a good year coaching this year. He’s smart and he’ll learn from his mistakes.

      • Georg says:

        Not so sure he is that smart, I fear we will again see offense suffer in pursuit of defensive soccer. Little ironic since Kries was one of MLS’s best offensive players ever,

      • Neruda says:

        The team overall needs to create more and another big offensive threat was clearly lacking but consider RSL still walked away from their most points in a season. Overall a decent season ending on a very underwhelming note.

        Kreis is a smart coach but he’s one of a few coaches in MLS who’s philosophy emphasizes a pass happy, possession oriented approach like FC Barcelona. They’re missing that one or two players that can unlock a defense in the final third like Messi does for Barca.

        RSL may have become too one dimensional (offensively speaking) and when the tactics need to adjust Kreis either doesn’t have the players or doesn’t want to change mid game.

  13. Sal says:

    Morales will regain his form with better players around him. RSL needs a dynamic winger. Johnson wasn’t going to be that guy.

    There better get something good out of the Olave/Espindola deal. Those were 2 key contributors.
    A quality winger and a quality partner for Saborio should be the focus. If they can get 2 DP-quality players, then they will be back in the upper tier of MLS.

  14. baropbop says:

    I think this underestimates what you can get for a Million. They could get a striker, mid, and a fullback. Some decent pick ups in the reentry draft to add depth if these guys don’t pan out. Can’t imagine that they put the bulk of that money on 1 person when they could easily get 2 or 3 very strong players.

    • baropbop says:

      Also brings up an underestimated issue within MLS, Who the hell is willing to live in Utah (along with many other places)?

      • Spencer says:

        people who like skiing and boarding

      • Neruda says:

        Lagerway stated on a podcast that every single player on the roster said they wanted to stay on the team when they met individually with management in the end of year interviews. This is a diverse team with players from all over that like playing for RSL enough to not want to be traded/released. Eventhough the Wasatch front is a small market it shows that RSL operates a good club with great fans, top notch facilities, intelligent management that competes in MLS. A DP type player who genuinely wants to win may take a flyer on little old Utah after all.

        But RSL doesn’t necessarily need the big sexy named DP, although that would be great, the club needs another Saborio or Morales. They could be players that player their way into becoming DP’s. Higuain for the Crew is another good example of the type of player that would come over to Utah and have a big impact.

  15. Andy says:

    Any ideas on potential forward targets?

  16. BJC says:

    Don’t forget about the RSL academy. Several players who are on not only the US junior national teams, but some international youth teams as well (Salcedo, Allen, Murillo).

  17. Cholmondeley Warner says:

    Only way Aaron Maund will make RSL stronger is if he never plays. In 6 years of season ticket holding Maund is amongst the worst TFC players I’ve seen at BMO, and Mariner kept playing him

  18. Joaquin says:

    It is time for RSL to stop being cheap and spend some money.

  19. Peaton says:

    Interesting analysis. What does this do to their depth?

  20. bj says:

    Defense might win championships in American football and basketball, but in soccer you’ve got to be able to score. Just take a look at the teams who made the playoffs and eventually got to the final 4. Ask yourself…were they offensive or defensive? LA – Offensive, Seattle – Offensive, DC United – Offensive, Houston – you could argue Defensive, but still was 6th in the league in goals scored. Even San Jose and Sporting KC (both very offensive minded) got knocked out not by defense, but by an incredible offensive effort by the opposing teams. Proving once again, “The best defense is a good offense.”