Feb 26, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT
Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. First kick is March 2.
No. 3 in the West is Real Salt Lake:
Significant additions and subtractions: A major roster shakeup, unfolding in a burst just after 2012 MLS Cup, was strange stuff for one of the most stable MLS clubs in terms of personnel. Fabian Espindola, scorer of a highly respectable 25 goals around Rio Tinto over the last three seasons, is now in New York. So is huge center back Jamison Olave, who spent years commanding RSL’s back line – although he was perhaps a little too brittle for the price. Or so RSL management reckoned.
With all that, it’s hard to say who the men in Utah will miss more, Espindola, Olave or Will Johnson, whose leadership, drive and ability to cover midfield ground will be difficult to replace in Utah. The Canadian international is now in Portland.
Strengths: Start with Kyle Beckerman, possibly behind only Osvaldo Alonso in the league’s ranking of holding midfielders.
Stability goes a long way in MLS. Jason Kreis may be only 40, but he also carries the league’s second-longest running tenure at a club, behind only Dominic “Dean” Kinnear at Houston. Kreis has come a long way from his time (not too awfully long ago) when the high-scoring striker stepped off the field at age 34 and immediately into RSL’s managerial seat. (He’s still the youngest coach to win an MLS Cup, by the way.)
Kreis and other club leaders love Chris Schuler and Kwame Watson-Siriboe, but neither one can match Olave at his best. They have wonderful potential and are sure to be even better whenever the injured Nat Borchers gets healthy and can provide direction alongside one of them; that probably won’t happen until April, earliest.
Pressure points: One of the league’s standard bearers in organizational stability is going through its most significant roster shift in years, an overhaul that gets the club younger here and there and deals with the naturally escalating salaries that handcuff any successful club.
Beckerman, for instance, strong shepherd that he is, will have a younger midfield flock around him to guide this year. That will be especially true until injured playmaker Javier Morales gets back on the field.
Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are fine MLS outside backs. But they no longer have Olave (who was faster than many realized, able to hurry over toward the touchlines in moments of big danger) to go clean up any mistakes. It might even change the way Wingert and Beltran play, perhaps creating a slightly more cautious approach about where to challenge and when to move forward.
Difference maker: Nick Rimando was good in 2012, whereas he was great in 2011. It would be a stretch to say he was in decline last year; then again, he needs to arrest any slippage now, before we would recognize something we could more accurately define as “decline.” With Rimando furthest back and Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio (17 goals last year, third best in MLS) occupying the highest spot on the field, the club has experienced, dependable bookends.
Potential breakout player: It’s a big year for Luis Gil, still only 19, but who has already been part of the RSL roster for two-plus years. The U.S. under-20 has 33 starts for RSL and a major role in the midfield this year, more or less replacing Johnson. He’s got tons of skill and he understands exactly how RSL wants to work the diamond midfield and the overall system, back to front. The Californian has “breakout” written all over him.
Bottom line: There’s no question the club will miss Olave, Johnson and Espindola, and no one around Rio Tinto relished seeing them go. The moves were all about salary cap and long-range planning. They’ll suffer a bit in the spring and perhaps into the summer. The question around Rio Tinto is what the team looks like in the fall, and there’s enough reason to believe things will shake out OK.
Jun 18, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
Our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 16 rounds of play:
Jun 18, 2013, 2:05 PM EDT
Some of the best U.S. success in the past has come when the United States was backed into a corner. Tonight looks much different:
Jun 18, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT
There are a few choices to be made ahead of Tuesday’s match in Utah:
Jun 18, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
Unsaid in this narrative is this: most U.S. sites are bright and alive these days.
Jun 18, 2013, 11:06 AM EDT
Stuart Pearce has been relieved of his duties as manager of England’s U-21 squad.
Jun 18, 2013, 9:34 AM EDT
Australia join Brazil and Japan as nations that already have booked their place in next summer’s World Cup.
Jun 18, 2013, 7:56 AM EDT
Hearts have put the entire squad up for sale to raise the reported £500,000 needed to get the club to the start of the season.
Jun 18, 2013, 12:10 AM EDT
Brazil has infrastructure concerns. They’ve also spent $3.3 billion on soccer stadia. No surprise, people aren’t happy.
Jun 17, 2013, 10:43 PM EDT
The mythology of Ajax, Dutch soccer and one stars’ struggles outside the Dutch league make this potential transfer difficult to evaluate.
Jun 17, 2013, 8:23 PM EDT
It’s only a matter of time before Ancelotti’s holding pattern’s resolved.
Jun 17, 2013, 7:39 PM EDT
It’s early days, but while City close the gap, Manchester United have yet to act.
Jun 17, 2013, 6:51 PM EDT
With a buy-out in his contract, Villas-Boas likely will be given a choice between Paris and London.
Jun 17, 2013, 5:59 PM EDT
Steve Bruce reunites with a player he brought to Wigan Athletic.
Jun 17, 2013, 5:19 PM EDT
Tahiti are a great story, but nobody wins when small countries get slaughtered by the world’s top teams.
Jun 17, 2013, 3:55 PM EDT
The U.S. midfielder has successfully completed the concussion recovery protocol:
Jun 17, 2013, 3:38 PM EDT
So just how serious are PSG? Word has it they’re ready to break the Premier League transfer record.
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