The Runner Sports

MLS 20 In 20: Real Salt Lake

Beginning in 2008 and running until 2014, Real Salt Lake were the San Antonio Spurs of MLS (sorry for the spoilers).  They built a solid system and core, fitting complementary pieces around those stars to consistently compete in the playoffs, Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League.  Last year, that system crumbled having lost the architects GM Garth Lagerwey and head coach Jason Kreis.  Can a rebuilt RSL return to their winning ways in 2016? Let us take a look.

Key Additions:

M/D Danilo Acosta (Last Club: Homegrown)

M Omar Holness (LC: 5th overall pick in SuperDraft)

F Yura Movsisyan (LC: Spartak Moscow)

M Sunny Obayan (LC: Alanyaspor)

D Chris Wingert (LC: New York City FC)

As will be a theme of this examination of RSL, I am extremely bullish that they will be much more competitive than last year, primarily as a result of the offseason moves.  As the second lowest scoring team in MLS last season, RSL needed an offensive makeover and boy did they achieve that feat in bringing Yura Movsisyan back to the club.

During RSL’s run to their only MLS Cup in 2009, Movsisyan was instrumental to their attack and should once again take up that mantel.  The center forward brings undeniable goal scoring chops as he only scored one fewer goal in the Russian Premier League during the 2013/14 season as league leaders Hulk, Artem Dzyuba, and Seydou Doumbia.  The past few seasons have been slightly hampered by injury, but at 28, Movsisyan should be entering the prime of his career.  Real Salt Lake will be looking for him to carry the goal scoring load and that shouldn’t be a problem with the service of Javier Morales, and another new DP Juan Manuel Martinez, who was signed technically last season.

Another weakness that was addressed was a central midfield partner to pair with long-time RSL player Kyle Beckerman.  Having never watched Obayan play, I am relying on the writing of those at the fantastic RSL blog  The folks over there believe that Obayan can be an energetic midfielder to provide the legs for Beckerman as he eases into a reduced role.  Obayan has talent, but based on his bouncing around to eight clubs since 2005, he has difficulty transitioning to new environments.  With the wonderful structure and dressing room at RSL, I have confidence that they can mold Obayan into a real engine in their midfield.

Outside of the two youngsters that were brought in, RSL’s only other addition was Chris Wingert.  Wingert was another of the long-time RSL players who left, but he now returns to be a vital depth piece.  He can fill in at just about any position across the backline and should be good cover for injury, suspension or rest.


Key Subtractions:

D Chris Schuler

M Luis Gil

M Luis Silva

M Sebastian Saucedo

F Sebastian Jaime

Abdoulie Mansally 

Like all MLS clubs, RSL experienced quite a bit of turnover at the bottom of their roster.  Gone are the little used, for various reasons, Schuler, Saucedo, and Silva.  The players that hurt losing are Gil, Mansally, and to some degree Jaime.

Gil was a constant fixture on MLS lists of exciting young players who should develop into stars, yet he was never able to live up to the hype.  At only 22 years old it is far too early to give up on the youngster, but a change of scenery was needed to continue the stalled development.

Mansally was recently traded to Houston in a salary dump for RSL, but he was a solid contributor at left back.  As is the nature of MLS salary cap, clubs can’t hold onto players with a high salary if they aren’t producing at a high level and Mansally was not.  He was an average player who was let go for essential nothing (3rd round Superdraft pick).

Jaime was one of the highest earning players on RSL last season and once Movsisyan was brought in, retaining him wasn’t feasible for a small market club.  Jaime would have been a nice piece off the bench, but you can’t pay a bench player starter’s salaries in MLS.


2016 Storylines:

CONCACAF Champions League:

Like I’ve said in previous pieces, the performance of MLS in this season’s edition of Champions League will go a long way in the soccer border war against Mexico.  RSL is just one of four MLS clubs taking on Liga MX next week in the first of two legs.  Getting off to a good start against Tigres UANL will be vital as RSL will be traveling to Mexico with a favorable return leg in the high altitude, likely chilly Rio Tinto stadium.  If RSL can keep the tie close away from home next week, then there will be a chance.

RSL also have a history in the CONCACAF Champions League as they nearly won the competition in 2011, losing in the final 3-2 to Monterrey.


Integration of new attacking talent:

How drastic of a change will the attack undergo this season?  Real Salt Lake essentially brought in two different players on DP type money that could both be stars.  Ageless wonder Javier Morales should be able to continue the stellar service that he has been known for, yet now he has players capable of finishing off those chances.


Can the defense hold up:

Without any real additions to the defensive unit, and linchpin Jamison Olave turning 35 soon, RSL will once again be leaning heavily on five-time All-Star Nick Rimando.  Will the defense hold up enough to support what should be a very entertaining attack?


2016 Reasonable Expectations:

A much-improved attack leads RSL into 2016 and gets the club back to their standard playoff position.  Just how far the club can go will depend on how often Rimando, Beckerman, and other key players miss through international call-ups and injury (the core is old).  RSL should get at least one more good season out of their backline and core players to make a push for the 6th and final playoff spot in the western conference.  Unfortunately, RSL is likely to fall out of the Champions League in the first round and I would expect a relatively early exit in the Open Cup based on a lack of depth.


Mainstream Sport Equivalent: 

As previously stated, this RSL team is the San Antonio Spurs of MLS for the simple fact that they are a small market team, with an aging, yet steady core, who have a stable infrastructure.  Both teams rarely if ever miss the playoffs and have mastered the roster building techniques in their respective leagues.  It is interesting that RSL lost their head coach and GM, but I believe they have rebounded with new leadership that should be equally as stable.

Tim Duncan = Kyle Beckerman

Old guys who might be the best all-time at their positions in the league.  Both are fundamentally sound to the point of being boring and both are soft-spoken.

Tony Parker = Javier Morales

Both old, short players who are the point guard of their teams.  Both have been a foundational part of their franchises’ success.

Manu Ginobili = Nick Rimando

Another member of the old guard in their franchises history.  Both overcame doubters (Rimando is short for a goalkeeper, Ginobili has an old man game/nontraditional basketball home) to impact the game.

As you can see, both have historic “big threes”

If you missed the first two installments of MLS 20 in 20 take a look.  The Seattle Sounders here and D.C. United here.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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