SANDY, Utah — It's a new era at Real Salt Lake, and with it a new message of sorts: It's time to spend a little more to bolster the current core.
“We now have more resources than we’ve ever seen at RSL and we’re looking,” RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said in the press conference naming the team's general manager, Elliot Fall, and head coach, Freddy Juarez, on Tuesday.
“We’ve had $3 million of our salary cap tied up that goes away...so we now have an opportunity to really work on those very expensive, front line striking positions,” Hansen said. “We have more capacity, more dollars, more salary cap. We’re excited. Obviously, there’s a lot in the works. We do think we can improve and augment an already very good defense, but we need to score in the last third.”
Improving the attack has been a perennial quest for RSL. In 2019, they ranked 19th in the league, with 46 goals scored in 34 games.
Last year’s search for a 20-goal scorer brought Liberian striker Sam Johnson, who showed glimpses of talent but struggled with injuries, finishing as the second-leading scorer on the season with nine goals. With Joao Plata's option declined and Bofo Saucedo reportedly heading to Mexico, Johnson, Corey Baird and Jefferson Savarino along with Albert Rusnak – the team's leading scorer in 2019 with 10 goals – are the top attackers left.
While there's quality still on the roster, the aim will be to find a player who can boost the unit in the goals department, one way or another.
“We need to find some more goals next year,” Fall said at the press conference. “Whether that’s a singular difference maker guy that’s going to start week in or week out, or a guy who competes with some of the other good pieces that we have, as long as we’re getting more goals out of it we’re good.”
Real Salt Lake have signed two forwards from their USL affiliate, league champion Real Monarchs, over the last six months in Douglas Martinez and Maikel Chang, but Hansen is prepared to open the coffers to bring in more talent this offseason.
In defense, RSL were impressive, quietly the third-stingiest in MLS in 2019 in terms of goals allowed, with 41. With two head coaches in charge during the season, top young center back Justen Glad spent time on the bench early in the campaign under Mike Petke, but alongside veterans Nedum Onuoha and Marcelo Silva the 22-year-old joined in the rotation as the season progressed and got sustained minutes late in the year under Juarez.
While the club appears to need a left back with Donny Toia out of contract, the strong defensive showing in 2019 means needs aren't as pressing in the back.
“We hope that players we bring in can add more,” Juarez said. “We hope they add that little difference.”
Either way, Fall said he feels he’s in a good spot with the defensive side of the roster.
“Some of those young guys have bright futures and very vertical trajectories, so it could be any number of things,” Fall said. “We feel we had a very good season defensively and really like the pieces we have along the back line and we absolutely want to bring in people to compete. If we bring in a guy who ends up a starter then we’ve done our job. If we bring in a depth piece that motivates a guy to take his game to the next level, we’ve still done our job.”
Of course, the biggest departure at the club is legendary goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who has retired. Andrew Putna made five appearances in 2019, while 18-year-old Homegrown David Ochoa turned heads while leading Real Monarchs to the USL Championship title this year.
The main question in midfield is if another legend, midfielder and captain Kyle Beckerman, will be back. The 37-year-old is out of contract, after playing 25 MLS regular-season games for RSL in 2019, his 13th season with the club.
Bringing him back in some capacity does sound like a priority.
“It goes without saying what Kyle brings and what Kyle has brought to the club,” Fall said. “There are multiple pathways to Kyle being involved and being a part of this club and we’ll continue to work toward the best outcome.”