Armchair Analyst: RSL retool, but keeping Morales key
What Monday’s trades mean for Real Salt Lake:
1. They recognize that Javier Morales is still the key to their attack, and that none of the talented youngsters they have can really replace him
So yeah, everyone knew RSL were hard up against the cap, and had to shift some of their bigger earners out. The assumption by many was that Morales, who’s now on the wrong side of 30 and wasn’t quite as effective last year as he’d been before his injury, was the one on the block.
But Luis Gil showed he’s more of a two-way worker bee than a real No. 10 – for now, at least. Two years from now, maybe he’ll be the playmaker to run the team around, and in the interim, who better to learn from than Morales?
As for the others, Sebastian Velasquez isn’t a central player. I have high hopes for Enzo Martinez, but he’ll definitely need another year cookin’ before he’s ready to be a starter.
They just don’t have a replacement for JaviMo. That’s why he’s still in Sandy, as both sides are trying to come up with the right contract number.
That, of course, means he could still be out. But I doubt it.
2. They’re pretty sure that some combination of Gil, Martinez, Velasquez, and Ned Grabavoy can make up for the loss of Will Johnson
In fact, I’d say you can go ahead and pencil Gil’s name into the starting lineup right now. Johnson was the consummate worker bee out there, and Gil learned from him well. He tracks relentlessly on defense and moves well off the ball in attack. While he’s not as sharp in either of those areas as Johnson, he’s improved immensely in the last two years.
And his touch on the ball is probably a bit better, as is his on-the-ball creativity. Like I said before, he’s not really a No. 10, not a guy who’s going to make your team play beautiful soccer. He just makes it easier for your team to play beautiful soccer. That’s an important distinction there.
3. They’re confident that Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Chris Schuler can replace Jámison Olave on a fulltime basis
Olave is still probably one of the four or five best central defenders in the league when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s only really healthy for about 10 games a year these days, and given his cap number, that’s just not a good investment.
Both Watson-Siriboe and Schuler have shown they’re MLS caliber players. They’re young, they have upside, they have experience, and they have tiny contracts. Aaron Maund, acquired for Justin Braun, will find himself in that mix as well, and all three of them can learn just fine from Nat Borchers, one of the league’s best at reading the game.
Relatively speaking, this must’ve been a pretty easy decision.
4. RSL ended the season on a month-long scoreless streak
Yeah, Álvaro Saborío had his chances in that run, so you can throw a little shame and blame his way, but he also scored 17 goals this season, third in the league.
The real problem is that Fabián Espíndola is such a streaky finisher that it finally outweighed all the other wonderful stuff he does. He’s incredibly busy off the ball, an excellent passer and one of the league’s best 1-v-1 players. He gets into the box with the ball on his foot as often as any striker in the league.
But he doesn’t put it in the net. And it’s pretty clear that for the diamond to really work, Saborío needs a partner who can take on more of the scoring burden. Espíndola hasn’t been able to do it.
So he’s off to New York in exchange for some allocation cash. And Johnson’s off to Portland in exchange for the same. If I were a betting man, I’d say that money’s not going toward finding another fullback.
It’s going to go to a striker. Maybe it’ll be a proven MLS scorer (hey, Kenny Cooper’s probably available now!), but more likely it’ll be someone that the RSL brain trust has their eye on down in South America somewhere. DP caliber seems likely.
The overall take-away, though, is that while this was a major retooling, it’s not an overhaul. RSL will come back in 2013 with 10 of 11 starters who’ve been around the team for at least two years. They have Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Gil and Grabavoy to start in the midfield. They'll have Saborío and an upgrade (in theory) at forward. They’ll still run the diamond, still be a possession-first team, and still have one of the league’s best defenses.
I wouldn’t necessarily consider them Western Conference favorites – we need to see how Gil, Velasquez and the new forward/forwards adjust before they can wear that label. But they’re still a playoff team, and one with more depth and more contributing youth than they had in 2012.