Changing of the Guard at Rio Tinto

It’s 19 degrees in Sandy right now with foggy conditions.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like perfect soccer weather to me! Okay, not so much, but, ready or not, soccer season is here. That means it’s time to break out those Claret-and-Cobalt scarves, you’re going to need them for a bit.

And if the soccer fan in you went into hibernation over the winter, you’ve missed a lot. So wake up RSL fans, it’s time to talk some soccer.

Some familiar names and faces are gone, and other familiar ones are back. Let’s start at the top; RSL founder and majority owner Dave Checketts called it quits and handed the reigns over to part-owner Dell Loy Hansen. Hansen now resumes full ownership of the team. Oddly enough, Hansen first invested in the team just days before Real won the MLS Cup back in 2009.

Now on to some of the players you won’t see on the pitch in 2013:

RSL shipped both Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave to the New York Red Bulls in exchange for allocation money.

Canadian midfielder Will Johnson was also moved to the Portland Timbers for additional money.

And you won’t see Justin Braun, Paulo Jr. or Jonny Steele coming off the bench either. Braun was traded while RSL chose not to re-sign Paulo Jr. and Steele.

Certainly Real will miss the ever-steady Olave who did a nice job keeping Nick Rimando clean when the defender was healthy. Unfortunately, injuries played enough of a role in his 2012 season that RSL discovered a way to play without him.

Will Johnson seemed to improve every season, but never really produced the results worthy of his fourth-highest base salary on the team in 2012. Of the players who had at least 20 shots last season, Johnson had the second lowest goal/90 min. average.

Espindola may be the guy that Real fans miss most. He was more productive, in terms of scoring, than any other player on the team minus Alvaro Saborio. I loved Espindola’s energy and ability to chase down balls and earn his team a set piece. I feel like he could have scored many more goals than nine, however, as he sometimes lacked the finishing touches.

RSL fans won’t notice the departure of Braun who was limited to just 87 minutes all season. Paulo Jr. and Steele started a combined 23 games, netting four goals and four assists. Each had a game-winning goal. Still, I think their production can be replaced.

You may have heard rumblings about Javier Morales’ contract expiring. Despite offers to play in other countries, Morales inked a new deal with RSL mid-January. His health must be a huge concern for fans and Manager Jason Kreis. According to news reports Monday, Morales will miss 4-6 weeks after successful surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear.

As for the newcomers… Remember Robbie Findley? The striker who recorded the club’s first-ever hat trick. The forward who scored RSL’s only goal in the 2009 MLS cup. He’s back in Salt Lake City after a brief stint at Nottingham Forrest. I am interested to see how he bounces back after just three goals in 32 appearances for Nottingham and Gillingham (on loan). Can he re-gain the form he had from 2007-10 when he scored 29 goals in 96 appearances for RSL? He is lightning fast and could create a very lethal striking tandem alongside Saborio.

Other notable additions:

Aaron Maund joined the club as part of the Justin Braun trade with Toronto. Maund is a defender who played in 15 games, including nine starts for Toronto last season. Maund may have a hard time breaking into the top 18 with three regular starters returning to RSL’s back line and three others who contributed significant minutes.

Joao Plata also joins the team from Toronto as part of a separate trade. The forward scored three goals and added five assists in 28 games last year. He’s a young player who will have plenty of time to develop as he watches one of the best scorers in MLS.

Real also added two defenders in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Brock Granger was selected in the third round. Granger started 58 games for the University of Louisville. Max Wesserman was a fourth round selection. Wesserman started 38 games for the University of Connecticut.

Now you’re all caught up and ready for 2013 regular season to kick off. Hopefully it warms up before then, but if not we’ve suffered through some cold games at Rio Tinto before.

Here’s a look at my starting 11 for 2013:

GK – Nick Rimando

DF – Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler or Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert

MF – Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil, Javier Morales, Ned Grabavoy

F – Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley

About the author

Matt Hugie

A graduate of Weber State University, my day job is journalism as the Assistant News Director for KPVI-TV based in Pocatello, Idaho. My passion is sports particularly the University of Utah. I've been going to games as long as I can remember and it's the best way I know how to honor a loving father who took me to games when I was a young buck but passed on to the other side far too soon. Now I take my smokin' hot wife at least until she gets too pregnant with our first to attend.