With just days left until opening day, MLSsoccer.com is halfway through previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Real Salt Lake's 2013 season. You can find Part 1 here.
2012 record: 17-11-6 (57 points); 46 GF / 35 GA (+11 GD)
Depth Chart: 1. Nick Rimando, 2. Josh Saunders, 3. Jeff Attinella, 4. Eduardo Fernández
Strengths: There is no MLS club with the quality or depth at goalkeeper that RSL has. Rimando is a US national team regular now, and his play on the field has had him near the top of the league in shutouts and goals allowed for each of the last four seasons. The pair of 'keepers added to the roster this offseason aren't half-bad either – Saunders, who has been the MLS Cup-winning goalkeeper for the past two years, came in from LA, while Attinella, the 24-year-old reigning NASL Goalkeeper of the Year, was also brought in.
Weaknesses: Rimando has always struggled with one thing throughout his MLS career: his height. He has proven himself one of the best in the league in terms of reactions, but balls in the air have been and always will be the weakest part of his game.
Wild Card: How often will Saunders see the pitch this season? If Rimando is healthy, he is still clearly the first-choice ‘keeper. But with international call-ups or simply giving Rimando a rest every once in a while, Saunders will need to see the field on occasion to stay sharp.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Tony Beltran, 2. Lovel Palmer; CB: 1. Chris Schuler – Kwame-Watson Siriboe, 2. Aaron Maund, 3. Carlos Salcedo; LB: 1. Kenny Mansally; Note: Nat Borchers (center back) and Chris Wingert (left back) are injured to start the season, but should be first choice at their positions when they return.
Strengths: With center backs Borchers (6-foot-2), Schuler (6-4) and Watson-Siriboe (6-3), RSL should have little trouble dealing with attacks through the air. The outside back duo of Wingert – when he returns from a broken foot – and Beltran have plenty of experience and know how to defend the wings. Kenny Mansally has continued his progress at the position and his attacking play up the wing is probably the most dangerous of the full backs on the roster.
Weaknesses: How will Schuler hold up as a full-time starter? He has struggled to stay healthy for a full season, an issue compounded by the fact that Borchers, along with Wingert, will be out injured to start the season. With players shuffling in and out of the lineup, how good will the communication and chemistry be?
Wild Card: After filling in admirably last season, both Watson-Siriboe and Mansally are going to be counted on to start the season. How much will they have progressed and how long will they remain the starters?
Depth Chart: DM: 1. Kyle Beckerman, 2. Yordany Álvarez, 3. Cole Grossman; RM: 1. Ned Grabavoy, 2. Khari Stephenson, 3. Enzo Martínez; LM: 1. Luis Gil 2. David Viana; AM: 1. Sebastián Velásquez, 2. John Stertzer; Note: Javier Morales is injured to start the season, but will be first-choice at attacking midfield on his return.
Strengths: If, and that is a big if, Morales can get healthy and stay there, he and Beckerman make up one of the premier attacking/holding central midfield duos in the league. Grabavoy is a steady, solid contributor and Gil continues to improve every season and has the fresh, young legs of a 19-year-old.
Weaknesses: Outside of the starting four and Stephenson, there is not a ton of MLS experience in the midfield. Velásquez is only a second-year player, as is Martínez, and Stertzer is a rookie. Álvarez has played some when Beckerman's been absent, but has drawn mixed reviews in his 20 total MLS appearances. So while the team touts their depth at the position, there is not a ton of proven talent behind the midfield starters.
Wild Card: Gil may be away for a long stretch in the summer now that the US have qualified for the U-20 World Cup, and if he shines at that tournament, a top European club could come calling. It would be tough for RSL to turn down a hefty transfer fee should Gil want to go that route.
Depth Chart: 1. Álvaro Saborío – Robbie Findley, 2. Joao Plata – Olmes García, 3. Devon Sandoval
Strengths: Saborio has 40 career MLS goals and is coming of a career-best 17-goal season in 2012, while Findley hit for 31 prior to his departure for Europe, so there's no doubt the duo knows how to put the ball in the net in this league. With the addition of Plata and Sandoval, Real really covers the whole spectrum of what is needed to score goals. Saborío is a master in the air, Sandoval can mix it up in the mold of Steven Lenhart, Findley is a burner that can stretch defenses, and Plata is quick, shifty and possesses superb technical sklls. García is a raw, but very promising talent.
Weaknesses: Outside of Findley and Saborio, experience is once again going to come into question for the club. Plata has started 28 games in his MLS career, but Sandoval is a rookie and García is just 20 and is new to the league. How quickly can they adapt to the speed of play in MLS, and perhaps even tougher, how fast can they learn what is expected defensively of an RSL forward in Jason Kreis’ system?
Wild Card: A couple of times this preseason, RSL have used Viana in a forward position, but he really has played more of a linking position making the formation more of a 4-4-1-1 than the traditional 4-4-2. Could Real experiment more with this tactic or did they see enough of it in the preseason to end its use?