SANDY, Utah – Win or lose on Thursday night, the walls of Rio Tinto Stadium will still be standing. The seats will still fill up 20-odd times a year, the postseason – and CONCACAF Champions League – will still be the goal, and RSL will still be RSL.
But they might be a different kind of RSL. That much, at least, could be riding on the second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Seattle Sounders (10 pm ET; NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“I think every year you evaluate your team, and the deeper you go in the playoffs, the better the year you’ve had,” Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey said after training on Wednesday, his club’s last before the game. “I don’t think it’s all one way or all another. It’s just a matter of you’re going to evaluate your guys.”
The guys up for evaluation could very well be the core of this Claret-and-Cobalt squad that have been together largely since 2008. Lagerwey and head coach Jason Kreis started to tweak the roster last winter, trading veteran right back Robbie Russell to D.C. United, and speculation has been rampant on fan forums and blogs that several other veterans could be in their last days in the high desert.
Age and salary cap concerns play their roles, as does the improved play of youngsters like Luis Gil, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Sebastián Velásquez. All three are younger and less of a cap hit than the guys in front of them, veterans like Jámison Olave and Javier Morales.
“I think I’m stating the obvious to say that, if the team does well, you’re going to try to keep it together," Lagerwey said. "If they don’t do so well, you’re probably gonna be more inclined to move some things. ... [That’s] true for every team in our league.”
But where is the bar set? It’s a tough question, especially in the ultra-competitive Western Conference where Lagerwey has seen his side go up against two other teams that have carved their names into league history over the last four years in Seattle and LA.
And the party of three has been crashed, now, by the San Jose Earthquakes, who picked up this year’s Supporters’ Shield and were a dominant 8-0-1 against the other three Western contenders.
“At the end of the season, if you haven’t won the championship then you’ve, on some level, not been completely successful,” Lagerwey explained. “Then you’ve got to make some tough choices under the salary cap to prioritize where you want to spend your money.”
At this point, though, Lagerwey and Kreis are hoping to put the conversation off for at least a little bit. Preferably until Dec. 2 – the day after MLS Cup – at the earliest.
“What you do in my business is try to put off the offseason as long as possible,” Lagerwey offered. “That’s our goal on Thursday, and there’s plenty of time to make these decisions in the offseason.”