Sometimes, when a preternaturally talented forward has his day, there ain't much defenders can do. It's why such a commodity is so valuable across the global marketplace that is soccer.
Players like that aren't plentiful, hence their value.
Jefferson Savarino, at the tender age of 22, looks to be one of those guys who has that precious ability. And Saturday was one of those days. The result? A 4-0 win for Savarino and Real Salt Lake, taking down the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union, easily their worst loss of the season.
You can imagine there sure were some fascinated eyes gazing upon his maestro performance from Europe. And the price just went up.
“There are several European teams interested in Savarino," RSL general manager Craig Waibel told MLSsoccer.com last week. "There are several very serious conversations surrounding not only Jefferson, but one or two of our other players as well.”
Savarino, acquired by the club in 2017 as a young Designated Player, has 18 goals and 18 assists in 69 appearances from a wide position since his RSL debut. All the while, he's grown to be an important piece for the Venezuelan national team, starting two games at this year's Copa America. His 2g/1a performance against Philly was only his second game since his side fell in the quarterfinals of South America's premier international tournament.
Interest could well turn into offers this summer. Cha-ching?
“The plan for the summer is incremental," Waibel explained. "We’re very happy with our roster. We have a couple players that have been garnering very serious interest, and any offer we get, we have to take it seriously in terms of our model and what it means to our club financially. But we’re quite pleased with where we are. … We don’t need to react, is the way we feel. We don’t need to go out and do anything dramatic.”
As Waibel said, Savarino isn't the only player the club have received interest in. Another may be Joao Plata, who looked to be on his way out of the club a couple months ago. His agent publicly said that a move could soon happen and it very nearly did.
In fact, it should have happened.
“We had an agreement with a team based in Mexico, the situation was very thorough, very healthy conversations with Joao," Waibel said. "There was an agreement in place but at the 11th hour, that team did not exercise the signature they promised the player. It was unfortunate, but Joao has had a great attitude. We still have to be open-minded to his desires and needs. I feel terrible, I feel bad for him as a person that he was promised something by another club. I compliment him because he’s been a great professional since coming back.”
As far as incoming players during the Secondary Transfer Window, Waibel is focused on adding to the club's defensive options.
“We do need to improve our back line and be realistic about the depth, or lack thereof right now," Waibel explained. "We’re safe at center back … but we’re keenly aware of depth at outside back being an issue right now.” He added the club are looking at options both domestic and abroad.
It's all in search of becoming more consistent.
The club have hovered around the playoff line for a few years. In 2016 they made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs by two points. In 2017 they missed out by a point. Last year, they made it by one. All the while, their performances careened between great and not-so-great performances within a season, month, week.
This campaign is no different. They endured a four-game losing streak and enjoyed a three-game winning streak between March and May.
“It’s pretty clear what we are and we aren’t," Waibel said. "We are a really talented team, primarily full of youth with some great balance from our veterans. But we’re a little bit of a light pole. Some days we look phenomenal, and some days we look like a young team. Overall, those ups and downs are leading to more consistent performances.”
RSL are a club that believes in youth, one that regularly promotes from its academy. An inherent risk with a young roster is consistency; It comes with the territory.
“In terms of predicting a club like Real Salt Lake, if you look at the model in terms of spending, consistency is one thing to ask," Waibel said. "But the opponent has to be factored in, mainly because we’re not La Liga, Premier League or Bundesliga. We’re not the team outspending another team by 15 times, that’s other MLS teams outspending us. Every once in a while, we’re going to run into performances that aren’t consistent.
"We’re very proud to be a developmental-oriented club, we’re very proud to give these young men opportunities," Waibel added. "It requires a very delicate balance, and to be perfectly honest, it requires us to get none of our veteran signings wrong to find success and stability. We understand in the model we’re in, there are going to be ups and downs.”
Right now, they're in one of the ups. With three wins in their last four, RSL have climbed back above the playoff line. If the last few years are anything to go by, expect them to duck under then climb back over that line a few more times by Decision Day presented by AT&T.