2013 Real Salt Lake Preview: Revamp – not overhaul – should keep RSL in the hunt
2012 record: 17-11-6 (57 points); 46 GF / 35 GA (+11 GD)
With just days left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Real Salt Lake's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
Real Salt Lake began the 2012 season with lofty goals. They talked of making a repeat run in the CONCACAF Champions League, winning a Supporters’ Shield and finishing the campaign by claiming the franchise's second MLS Cup.
The failed to reach any of them.
The club didn't advance out of group play in CONCACAF after being unable to get a win at Rio Tinto Stadium over Costa Rica's Herediano.
After leading MLS through May for the Shield, blowing a two-goal lead at home against the eventual Cup-winning Galaxy led to a summer swoon as Jason Kreis saw his side fall out of contention. Then, needing only a win at home, RSL lost to Seattle in the Western Conference semifinals to see their Cup dreams end.
As a result, part of the core for a four-year run for RSL had to be broken up. Fabián Espíndola, Will Johnson and Jámison Olave were salary-cap casualties, but there are still enough pieces left and some nice new additions to make the club think it can still compete for a Shield and Cup.
In and Out
IN: M Cole Grossman (11/19/12 - waiver draft); D Aaron Maund (12/3/12 - trade from Toronto FC); M Lovel Palmer (12/14/12 - Re-Entry Draft Stage 2); F Robbie Findley (1/16/13 - rights traded from Portland); M John Stertzer (1/17/13 - SuperDraft); F João Plata (1/30/13 - trade from Toronto); F Devon Sandoval (2/19/13 - SuperDraft); F Olmes García (2/21/13 - transfer from Deportivo Quindío); GK Josh Saunders (2/22/13 - free); M Khari Stephenson (2/22/13 - free)
OUT: OUT: M Nico Muñiz (11/19/12 - option declined) ; GK Kyle Reynish (12/3/12 - option declined); M Jonny Steele (12/3/12 - option declined); F Paulo Jr. (12/3/12 - option declined) ; F Emiliano Bonfigli (12/3/12 - option declined); F Justin Braun (12/3/12 - traded to Toronto); D Jámison Olave (12/3/12 - traded to New York); F Fabián Espíndola (12/3/12 - traded to New York); M Will Johnson (12/3/12 - traded to Portland)
Star Attraction: Álvaro Saborío
The Costa Rican international has scored 40 goals in three seasons, including 17 in 2012, good for third in MLS. Despite lofty stats, however, Saborío has yet to be named to an MLS All-Star team, and his name is rarely mentioned when talking about the top forwards in the league.
Saborío will miss time with RSL again this season as he has become a mainstay for the Costa Rican team that is trying to qualify for the World Cup, but if he keeps up his scoring pace, perhaps this is the season he breaks through and is recognized as a star.
Unsung Hero: Ned Grabavoy
How can a player that gets as much praise in MLS corridors as Grabavoy still be considered unsung? It's because he still doesn't get as much credit as he deserves in public. His versatility allows him to play all four positions in Real's diamond midfield, he's a tremendous defensive player and a good tackler, and his contributions in possession are, as yet, unmeasurable. If any of RSL's starters in the middle are out, Grabavoy is usually the one to step up and man the position – and does so with nary a complaint.
Ready for Primetime: Chris Schuler
Coming off a season in which he missed over three months of action due to injury – the beginnings of a stress fracture in his left foot and a quadriceps strain – goal No. 1 for Schuler will simply be staying healthy. Goal No. 2 is to fill some very big shoes.
When RSL traded away Jámison Olave, they did so with the thought that Schuler was primed and ready to step into a full-time starting role. Already terrific in the air, Schuler’s on-the-ball tactics and defensive instincts should continue to improve to make him a bona fide star defender in MLS.
Storylines to Watch
1. Keeping the team whole: RSL fans will unfortunately need to keep a close eye on both the injury report and the international duty wire. Three expected starters will begin opening day out of commission as Javier Morales (torn lateral meniscus), Nat Borchers (quadriceps surgery) and Chris Wingert (broken bone in foot) are on the mend. Add in World Cup qualifying and the summer's Gold Cup (Saborío, at least, will be a regular), and Kreis could end up juggling lineups through November.
2. Will the young kids step up? Yeah, lots of questions are about the veterans like Saborío, Morales, Robbie Findley and Kyle Beckerman. But there are just as many about guys like Sebastián Velásquez, Joao Plata and Olmes García. If they can't provide quality minutes, then RSL will be struggling pretty much all season, and could end up on the outside looking in come playoff time. If they make the leap, Kreis will suddenly have game-changers at his disposal.
3. One more goal: The bottom line for RSL is that they came up two goals short twice more in 2012, continuing a trend that dates all the way back to 2010. Whether it's the hunt for the Shield, a near-legendary "almost" in the CCL, or a playoff flameout, Kreis' team has made a habit of playing well, but failing to find the net. That's got to change for the club to add to its trophy cabinet.
What He Said
“We believe we have put together a team that will compete. We still have a core group that has won and know what it takes to win, but we have mixed in some newer pieces and feel those pieces are not only our future, but players that can help us win right now. If everything plays out on the field the way we have envisioned, we will have set ourselves up for another run at a Cup and put ourselves in good shape for the future."
– RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey
If Everything Goes Right
RSL traded away three All-Star caliber players during the offseason and declined the options of a couple more veterans. That isn’t to say it is a rebuilding process – they're bringing back 14 of their top 19 players in the minutes played category for 2012, after all.
If the club stays healthy and some of the younger players expected to step in live up to their potential, RSL can still make a run at a Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. They could also improve on their fairly dismal showings in the Open Cup, and via one mechanism or the other, reclaim a spot in the CCL.