SBI MLS Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

By VINCE MADURI

Real Salt Lake may have come within a singular goal of being able to keep their team together for one more run at another title.

In CONCACAF Champions League group play, RSL needed one goal against Herediano at home to send the club through to the knockout stages, securing extra allocation money to fit the team under the cap in 2013.  Salt Lake couldn’t find the goal they needed, and had to breakup a roster the club managed to largely keep together for a string of several years.

Gone are defensive mainstay Jamison Olave and streaky forward Fabian Espindola, both traded to New York.  Gone is high-energy midfielder Will Johnson, who was traded to Portland.  Real Salt Lake had to sacrifice several players who were paramount to the consistent success the club has enjoyed since 2008.

Now RSL move forward with a slimmer, younger roster highlighted by players that have worked their way up the ranks of the team and will now find themselves in the starting lineup.

Here is a closer look at Real Salt Lake ahead of the 2013 MLS season:

REAL SALT LAKE SEASON PREVIEW

2012 FINISH: 17-11-6, 57 points (Second in Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Olmes García, F Robbie Findley, M John Stertzer, F Joao Plata, F Devon Sandoval, GK Josh Saunders, M Aaron Maund, M Lovel Palmer, M Cole Grossman, M Khari Stephenson

KEY LOSSES: D Jámison Olave, F Fabián Espíndola, M Will Johnson, F Justin Braun, M Jonny Steele, F Paulo Jr., F Emiliano Bonfigli, GK Kyle Reynish, M Nico Muñiz

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: F Olmes Garcia – The Colombian is only 20 years old and may not start the year as the striker alongside Saborio.  But don’t be surprised if Garcia is awarded the position at some point this year.  The forward does not have an outstanding scoring record yet as his young age, but RSL staff could not ignore Garcia’s talent and expect the Colombian to be a big factor on this team.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: F Alvaro Saborio – Saborio’s scoring partner is gone in Fabian Espindola, leaving the Costa Rican the large amount of the scoring burden.  Robbie Findley will most likely start the year alongside Saborio, but Findley hasn’t had a good scoring season since he left Salt Lake in 2010.  Joao Plata and Olmes Garcia have yet to become proven scorers at an elite level, although both have the talent to do so.  Therefore, Saborio needs to have a big season for RSL to contend.

OUTLOOK:

Now that the exodus is complete, Real Salt Lake’s roster will be made up of several young players including increased roles for midfielder Luis Gil and defender Chris Schuler.

Gil was initially looked at as the eventual replacement for playmaker Javier Morales, and he still might be, but immediately Gil’s role will take on one similar to Will Johnson the last few seasons.  The US U-20 star will have a high energy and work rate on the right side of midfield.

Morales will still play the primary midfield attacking option at 33-years-old while captain Kyle Beckerman serves as the link behind the Argentine.

One player who has impressed in pre-season is rookie John Stertzer. As much depth as there is in the midfield, with the likes of Sebastian Velasquez, Ned Grabavoy and Enzo Martinez, Stertzer just might play himself into rookie minutes.

Alvaro Saborio will need to have a big year for RSL to contend because the Costa Rican is going to be paired with one of a few different strikers that have either never been proven scorers at an elite level in Olmes Garcia and Joao Plata, or that has not had a good run of form in a few years in Robbie Findley.  Saborio is about to turn 31 years old and should still have enough in the tank to compete at this level for a few more years.

Chris Schuler will start in central defense with Nat Borchers, while familiar faces Tony Beltran and Chris Wingert will occupy the full back positions.

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10 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: Real Salt Lake

  1. OPMG says:

    No mention of how good Sebastion Velasquez has looked? He’s shown much better vision and more confidence on the ball compared to last year. He’ll provide a creative, attacking spark that the midfield didn’t have last year unless the ball was at Morales’s feet.

  2. Aaron says:

    So much of the team has remained the same. Olave was a fan favorite and a great defender, however due to injuries, Schuler and Siriboe played a lot of minutes alongside Borchers. Olave’s speed will be missed, but if Borchers is healthy and leading the center backs, we will be ok.

    Espindola as mentioned above was streaky. At times a great asset, but at other times he was ineffective. His propensity to push the ball wide each time down field allowed teams to set up their defense. RSL’s slow, methodical transition from defense to offense didn’t help. Adding Findlay, Plata and Garcia will speed up the counterattack and prevent teams from pushing as high as they did on RSL last year. The occasional over the top ball both early and late in the game should help the diamond attack to be more effective.

    Johnson will be missed for his tenacity and defensive mindset. This will be replaced with younger players like Gil and Velasquez that are quicker and more attack minded. We will see how it all plays out, but I would love to see some more goals that will prevent teams sitting back late in games at Rio Tinto. I’m excited to see how the new and younger additions pan out.

  3. euroman says:

    Making the playoffs will be a huge ask for this group. Too many leaving at once and nothing coming back in return.

  4. RSLstg says:

    I feel this group could surprise some people. Yes losing Olave, Espindola, and Johnson are big losses but the fact is we have players ready to fill those gaps. Schuler is a very capable replacement of Olave. Between Gil, Velasquez, Stephenson, Viana, Martinez, Grossman, and Sterzer there is more than enough guys to fill in Johnson’s shoes. Lets face it Johnson was a fan favorite and worked his butt off every game but he wasn’t a huge threat offensively. Something Gil is very good at. The biggest question remains to be if the new forward group can bring the same threat as Espindola. This team is a playoff team for sure and if things really start to click I believe they could contend for top 2 in the west.

  5. Francois says:

    No soccer Wednesday running commentary Ives?

  6. Cole says:

    We’ll easily make the playoffs with this team. We’ll finish around 2nd or 3rd in the west I reckon.

    Oh, and I hope we don’t crash out of the USOC again. That would make me sad. :<

    • ed - houston says:

      I don’t know about it being easy but RSL flies under the radar every year and still does good. If all goes well i can see them 2-4 in the west.

  7. Vinz Clortho says:

    Have to agree w/ Aaron.

    Some key veterans are still in place and management has very consciously lessened investment in defense for improvement on the offensive side. Enhancing the attack w/ speed and a greater mix of counter attacking will yield more goals (though it may leak a few more)….Still, as some may say, the best defense is a good offense….

    I will miss Johnson’s work rate, but I will not miss his speculative shots from way out that waste long spells of possession….

    I just hope the fans don’t boo our former players….RESPECT

    • RPH says:

      I don’t know why any of our fans would. None of the guys we lost were asking to be traded or anything like that. They were all popular players that I think will be greeted with cheers . . . so long as they don’t score a bunch on us.

      • Russ says:

        We have classy fans. When Jeff Cunningham came back after being traded, we cheered him during player introductions and even again when he scored a goal on us. Then he got into a fight with Andy Williams…we booed him after that.

        I remember Mathis getting a friendly welcome too. After watching NY-POR last night I definitely missed our guys, but we will always respect them.