The 2011 season didn’t quite go according to plan for Real Salt Lake. Despite all of the preseason talk centered around which trophies the Claret-and-Cobalt would be taking home this year (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League), they ended up falling short on each count.
The season turned out to be one full of struggles and adversity. Still, RSL were still able to claw their way into third place in the league table, and beat a talented Seattle Sounders squad in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs before succumbing to eventual champs LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship.
Best Moment of the Year
The entire league was behind RSL as they earned a stunning 2-2 draw at Monterrey’s Estadio Tecnológico in the first leg of the Champions League finals back in April, setting up a dramatic finale back at Rio Tinto Stadium. That feeling of support was a tremendous moment in time for the club, and one that those involved will likely never forget.
Worst Moment of the Year
While it would be easy to list the ensuing second-leg loss to Monterrey a week later as the low point in the season – and it certainly was a low – the horrific injury to Javier Morales on May 7 was an even greater loss. The image of the Argentine’s foot pointing the wrong way after a hard challenge from Chivas USA’s Marcos Mondaini is hard to erase from your mind. The impact of losing Morales for what was nearly the remainder of the season was profound.
Luis Gil’s blast from outside of the area against the New York Red Bulls at Rio Tinto Stadium in August may not have been the most picturesque of scores, but the goal was symbolic of the progress the youngster made this season, as he emerged as a valid option off the bench for Jason Kreis.
Nick Rimando did the business all season long, but this one goes to Tony Beltran for his headed save in the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals at Seattle. The defender had to fight against momentum carrying him in the wrong direction to reach back acrobatically with his head, negating a sure goal by flicking the ball over the crossbar. The save was critical to maintaining RSL’s advantage and helped propel them onto the Western Conference Championship.
In a season full of emotional twists and turns, Kyle Beckerman was a rock. He had a career-high nine assists and helped keep the team fighting when they could have easily folded at various points along the way. With the exception of a regrettable and out-of-character lapse of judgment when he headbutted Chicago's Daniel Paladini in late September – a stunt that earned him a five-game suspension – he was among the best in the league this season.
With Beckerman’s suspension and periodic absences due to international duty, it was important for RSL to find a fill-in at the holding midfielder spot. They found one with the late-season addition of Yordany Álvarez, who was coming off a season in which he was named the USL Pro league MVP. The Cuban turned out to be a capable backup, and played in several key matches down the stretch.
1. Find depth at fullback: With the departure of Robbie Russell via trade to D.C. United, it's imperative Kreis and GM Garth Lagerwey identify another option at the right or left back spot to improve the depth chart.
2. Fill in holes in the midfield: The departures of Collen Warner in the Expansion Draft and Andy Williams to retirement also leave big vacancies in key positions. The challenge here is clear and must be addressed.
3. Improve overall team speed: After losing burners Robbie Findley and Yura Movsisyan to Europe in consecutive seasons, Real Salt Lake found themselves lacking the speed necessary to soften defenses in MLS in 2011. The overall speed of the current roster is only average from front to back — plugging that weakness this offseason is something the technical staff also should consider.