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The core is no more for Real Salt Lake; but is there one charge remaining?

Oct 26, 2012, 10:18 AM EDT

Real Salt Lake v Chivas USA Getty Images

The signs were there. Signs, otherwise known as cracks in the foundation.

Real Salt Lake went a little stale in 2012. What served the team so well for the last few years, dependence on a central core of good players, but a roster devoid of pricey stars, lost its sharper edge.

So changes are surely on the way at Rio Tinto. How could they not be? The evidence is there in a home record (11-4-1) that just doesn’t look as daunting as previous versions. We’re not that far removed from RSL’s record 29-game home unbeaten streak, which ran through May of last year. That was the RSL model at its best.

The big signpost, of course, was illuminated Tuesday as Jason Kreis’ men could not find a goal against Costa Rica’s Herediano. The 0-0 draw in Utah was enough to eliminate RSL from a tournament that, officials in Utah admit, means a lot to the organization.

Five MLS teams went into CONCACAF Champions League play: three advanced into the quarterfinals, while RSL joined Toronto FC as MLS clubs that couldn’t get it done.

MLSSoccer.com’s Jonah Freedman talks about RSL’s condition in this piece. While wondering if RSL has one last, big, screaming charge up the hill (MLS Cup), Freedman wonders, for instance, about Javier Morales’ DP contract, which is up.

Morales simply has not been the same influence he was in previous years. At 32 years old and coming off a major injury, that’s not shocking. His raw numbers aren’t bad, at 3 goals and 9 assists in 29 contests. Not bad, but not exactly DP or difference-making stuff.

Morales has been outstanding here and there but, like the team, has lost that knife’s edge over a longer stretch.

And there is a choice to be made on Jamison Olave, a wonderful center back when healthy – and this year, that hasn’t been often enough.

Manager Jason Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey built a smart roster, one that reaped the 2009 MLS Cup, making Kreis the youngest manager to win one. Now they’ll have to rebuild a smart one.

  1. wesbadia - Oct 26, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    There’s an apparent paradox that is emanated in RSL: MLS’s structure is set up in a way that prevents clubs remaining strong for more than a few years; yet, contrary to what some may believe about RSL, I feel as though they’re set up to take advantage of things and remain competitive in the near future.

    Kreis is a smart man, and I think his best attribute is the way he manages players at all levels within the club. He and Lagerway have been preparing for the breaking-up of their core for a couple years now. Schuler has always been destined to replace Olave. Alvarez (and before him Alexandre) is set to replace Beckerman. Over the last year, they’ve added Braun and Bonfigli as key pieces to their striker corps. Mansally, Watson-Siriboe, and Steele were brought in to bolster the ranks by adding depth but preparing for the future. At the same time, Gil has come into his own as not only a workhorse in the midfield, but as a creator on attack. Beltran at outside back, also.

    The key to continuing the longevity at RSL (or any team for that matter) is to take risks on younger players and develop them to play a particular style of game. RSL more than any other club has this established, but there’s still considerable risk involved. For instance, who’s to say Braun will become a true Saborio-type of striker? Who’s to say Alvarez will be as consistent as Beckerman has been? Who’s to say Gil won’t finally take advantage of a European suitor? Who’s to say Enzo Martinez will amount to ANYTHING for the first team?

    As youth academies, the reserve league, and player development grows and solidifies, the aged old MLS parity will be tested and stressed. Some teams may become perennial contenders for good. But the developmental systems at each club will inevitably gobble up some of that parity and change the tide of things a bit.

    All that being said, I think RSL stands to both gain and lose a lot in 2013. With David Viana coming in, RSL may have a legitimate replacement for Morales. Same with Olave/Watson-Siriboe, and maybe a couple others. These younger players could step up and show that they’re ready to get on the stage permanently. At the same time, trying to get immediately and universally younger is traditionally bad news in MLS. Philly tried it in 2010 and failed. DC had attempted it around the same time with mixed results. Chivas has been trying it since ~2008 and look where they’ve been over that time. It’s a mixed bag, and one that I doubt Kreis will try fully. There are other ways, and it requires letting go some fan favorites. And that’s the route I’d take.

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