Through the first four months of the 2017 season, pretty much everything went wrong for RSL. Center back Justen Glad got hurt and missed most of that stretch. Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando both started showing their age. The fullbacks were suspect. The "3" line in the 4-2-3-1 was mostly not productive and mostly very frustrating/ed. Nobody took a hold of the box-to-box midfield role and made it theirs. And the center forward(s) were misfiring.
It all added up to misery. By the end of June RSL were dead last, new head coach Mike Petke had blessed them out after a catastrophic road trip to Texas, and there was no reason to think good soccer was on the way.
Over the final four months of the season, they played the best soccer in their conference. They went 8-3-4, tightened up the defense, commanded the midfield, turned both fullback positions into strengths and turned back the clock for Rimando and Beckerman. Everything that went wrong in the first half of the season started going right. Except for one thing:
Luis Silva had a decent enough haul – 7g/3a in 1775 minutes is pretty good, and when you combine it with Yura Movsisyan's seven goals in a touch over 1400 minutes, you could make the argument that center forward production was "acceptable" for RSL.
But the reality is that Silva is a career back-up and Movsisyan had, for multiple reasons, been utterly buried on the bench by July of last year. And when the stretch run came and the Claret-and-Cobalt were doing their damnedest to claw their way into the playoffs, they just didn't have a guy who could consistently turn chances into goals. The other teams in the Western Conference race had Chris Wondolowski and Fredy Montero and Alberth Elis and RSL had more questions than answers pretty much always.
If they're to make the jump in 2018, that can't be the case any longer. Mosisyan appears to be on his way to a buyout, but Silva is getting his shot at winning the job and new signing Alfredo Ortuño is the man he's competing with. Ortuño wasn't brought in to sit, but if there's one thing Petke has shown no compunction about, it's putting a DP on the bench (Movsisyan in Utah, Tim Cahill in New Jersey). Whoever really wants to be the No. 9 is gonna have to scrap for it.
And then they're going to have to produce, because there's too much talent on this roster for this team to miss the playoffs again. When games get tight at the end of the year it often does come down to having a hot forward who simply knows how to get it done.