Real Salt Lake takes shape

never one to settle for second-best -- wants to have a brand-new stadium to play in by 2007. But it'll certainly do for the moment as Rice-Eccles Stadium is more than suitable for Major League Soccer's new expansion franchise. If it was good enough to host the thousands of athletes who descended upon Utah for the 2002 Winter Olympics, it's surely good enough to host FC Dallas.

Besides, if you want to talk stadiums, it'll have to wait. Pastorino has bigger fish to fry. Like trying to finalize his staff and assemble a roster for his team. He's been so busy the past two months since being hired away from his position as assistant GM of the Chicago Fire that he hasn't even got a chance to fully move into an office yet or even open up a checking account, which he was scrambling to do at lunch on Tuesday.

"Oh yeah, it's been a whirlwind," says Pastorino. "But it's definitely exciting and challenging. It'll make for a rewarding week."

You see, this week Real Salt Lake will finally have somewhat of an identity. Up until now, it's been all about Checketts, his hirings, the somewhat-controversial nickname and the new logo. On Friday that will change, as the MLS expansion draft will provide RSL with at least 10 players. It'll be the ultimate crapshoot, as it means that Pastorino will essentially be getting player that the 10 teams from last season didn't deem worthy of protecting.

Yet, that's a challenge the new GM relishes.

"I'd rather have the challenge of building a team from scratch than coming to a team that someone else has built," he says.

The first piece of the puzzle will be seen Wednesday evening when he and head coach John Ellinger unveil their inaugural signing -- All-Star forward Jason Kreis -- to the local media. Then comes the expansion draft two days later. Even so, the roster will be a long way from really taking a shape.

"You can build depth and find some very key cogs," says Pastorino about the expansion draft. "But we won't find the three or four guys who define this team. And I'm not sure we'll find our team captain on Friday."

When the list of unprotected players became available to him on Tuesday morning, he saw a few names he didn't expect to see and was definitely intrigued by a few decisions the MLS clubs made. For one, Pastorino admitted to raising an eyebrow when he saw that both Rusty Pierce and Joe Franchino were left unprotected by the New England Revolution.

"I expected to see one or the other, but not both," he says.

The decisions he did not expect came from San Jose and the MetroStars.

"I was surprised to see Ronnie Ekelund available," says Pastorino about the Earthquakes central midfielder. "I was moderately surprised to see Jonny Walker available."

While Walker could be an intriguing pick for either Real or CD Chivas USA, he plays a position that is most easy to find in this country.

"We have a glut of outstanding goalkeepers," says Pastorino. "It's the position I'm least concerned about."

Notable 'keepers in the draft include two players Pastorino knows from his days in the Windy City in Henry Ring, a 2004 MLS All-Star, and D.J. Countess, as well as Adin Brown, Matt Jordan and Tony Meola. Though he would be a bigger risk than the others, Brown could reap the most rewards, as the 26-year-old goalkeeper is one of the best in MLS when healthy. How he improves from a series of concussions that prevented him from playing with the Revs for the majority of the year will have to be weighed.

There's also U.S. national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who has said for a long time that he'd like to finish his career in MLS. After not winning the starting job in Tottenham this year, Keller was loaned to Southampton for a one-month period. He may be a possibility when the FIFA transfer window opens up on Jan. 1.

"We'd love to have Kasey," says Pastorino. "I'm just not sure how possible that is."

What Pastorino is really looking for are some diamonds in the rough, so to speak. He'd love to get contributions from a few players out of this expansion draft in the way that Bob Bradley did with Francis Okaroh and Zach Thornton after selecting them in the lottery before the 1998 campaign.

"I'm not sure if this draft is that deep," says Pastorino. "If we can come away with five players that'll contribute, I'll be thrilled. We're not looking at Friday as the day we fill all of our holes."

That'll come later when the team looks for senior internationals to add and through the allocations owed to them.

"I would love to get a Peter Nowak like Chicago did in '98 or a Christian Gomez as D.C. did in '04," he says.

He also mentioned U.S. players such as Clint Mathis and John O'Brien who the team would be crazy not to want if the interest was there.

But where the team certainly might have a leg up on its competitors will come in January's MLS SuperDraft, as Ellinger spent the last seven years at the helm of the U-17 U.S. national team. Many of the best prospects in the draft will be former players of Ellinger, not to mention that many out there already on MLS teams "all want to play for John" now that he is in the league, according to one league official.

Since being hired last month, Ellinger has not only seen every team in the league play at least once in person, he has also attended several college matches to prepare for the draft. The night before MLS Cup, Ellinger and Pastorino even skipped the league's Gala Awards celebration and scouted UCLA.

The two have also been working on their own mock drafts, just like the ones you see in newspapers or on websites, to try and see what might happen on Friday. With each team being allowed to pull one player back for every player taken, it's hard to map out.

"Plus, we don't know what Chivas is going to do so it's difficult," says Pastorino, whose club will select second on Friday after losing a coin flip with Chivas USA over the weekend. "I only saw about five or six Latino players on the unprotected list that Chivas might be interested in, so I'll be curious to see what they do."

Just as curious as the rest of the league will be to see what Pastorino and the new side in Salt Lake City will have up their sleeve come Friday.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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