After quiet offseason, Real Salt Lake players say they may need to keep up in MLS arms race
SANDY, Utah – Four weeks before the MLS regular season begins, Real Salt Lake's roster is more settled than it's ever been at this point.
“Twenty-eight guys signed right now … 28 guys we're going to carry for the season,” general manager Garth Lagerwey told reporters. “So that's how close we are to having a full team.”
And it's pretty much the same team RSL put on the field a year ago – by design.
“We made the [US] Open Cup final. We made the MLS Cup final,” Lagerwey said. “That's pretty good, so we didn't want to mess things up too much.”
The thinking is that stability on the roster will be a bonus as longtime goalkeepers coach Jeff Cassar takes over as head coach, along with a new group of assistants.
RSL's veteran players are supportive of the effort to keep the team intact, but they are not unaware they will be facing teams that have made big moves in the offseason. They know a team like former league doormat Toronto FC has spent big bucks to sign Gilberto, Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley to try to turn things around.
“I think that's been a big surprise, but it's also good for the league,” veteran RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando told reporters. “You just see that teams are making moves now. Teams are paying big money to bring players, and the league's growing.”
Salt Lake, however, is standing pretty much pat. The big addition to the Claret-and-Cobalt's lineup this season is 18-year-old Jordan Allen, who came up through the RSL-Arizona Academy.
“I think that when it comes to making moves, it doesn't have to be a big-name player,” veteran RSL defender Nat Borchers told reporters. “It just has to be somebody that helps us win games. I think we've done a great job with our value picks and working to integrate those players into our philosophy.”
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Said Rimando: “It is reassuring that we have a lot of the same faces around because you get this comfort of playing with the same players and you know how to play with them.”
But the players seem to think that, at some point, RSL are going to have go with the league flow and join the gold rush.
“If we're expected to play at their level and win championships like those teams, then maybe we're going to have to start doing that, too,” Rimando said.
They're not targeting a date, but they expect team management to make a move eventually – perhaps sooner rather than later.
“At some point in time for us to maintain our competitive edge, we're going to have to probably make some moves,” Borchers said. “Some big moves. It's just the nature of the game. We're going to have to make sure we're competitive with the rest of the league.”
And while Lagerwey said no roster moves were in the offing, he didn't rule them out, either.
“You could still see some new players in,” he said. “But if you want to add one, you've got to subtract one.”