RSL’s Roster: Forward Thinking

Throughout the offseason one of the messages resonating from staff to management was the need to get goals in the course of play.  Real Salt Lake’s management has felt the inability to come away with hardware was largely affected by RSL’s ability to score goals.  Proven scorer Alvaro Saborio scored seventeen times through the regular season in 2012.  After him, the number trails off with Fabian Espindola’s nine, Beckerman’s four and Morales’ and Johnson with three.  Consistency in scoring certainly plagued RSL last year.  This year needs to be different to succeed and change was made. The spirited Espindola was moved out and new faces were brought in.

The first new face is also an old one; third highest scorer in RSL history, Robbie Findley.  Findley brings blazing speed to the forwards of RSL.  He was selected in the expansion draft and then decided to test his skills in England.  After a really unproductive two years in England, he is back.  He will likely have gained experience and knowledge in England but his confidence as a goal scorer will have taken a hit.  How quickly can he find his form on a familiar squad and familiar system is a big question to be answered?  Speed seems to be the topic of choice for new forwards at RSL. Real Salt Lake also signed former Toronto FC forward Joao Plata.  Though small in stature, he is very quick, talented on the ball and sneaky.  He has a clever combination of skill and speed.  Only a mere twenty years old, Plata presents himself as a future goal scorer for RSL.  However, I think more.  His combination of speed and skill will be ideal in the RSL system and I think he will adapt quickly.  Both Plata and Findley would play a nice complement to the style Saborio plays, but Saborio will have a lot of international duty this year.  With these five players vying for a position at forward, talk remains there is another potential forward to be signed.  Without knowledge of who this is, we’ll look at scenarios with our current options.

Alvaro Saborio is clearly the preferred starter for Real Salt Lake.  Proven scorer from last year, and already off to a great start this year with a goal and an assist in the opening World Cup Qualifying match for Costa Rica.  He is a big target in the box, and knows exactly how to finish with his head.  Given a break or cleverly placed through ball he has the ability to smoothly place it at the back of the net, even if it takes a nifty heel flick to do so.  Through criticism of laziness or not productive enough, his numbers truly speak more.  A solid performer for years to come, he will be a regular up front for RSL.  A backup for him will also be necessary.

In the 2013 draft RSL selected the large Devon Sandoval from the University of New Mexico.  At 6’1 he is a good size target with highly praised strength, Devon has been acclaimed as a natural with his back to the goal.  He is talented in the air and will have to adapt to the RSL way.  With 15 goals and 7 assists in his senior season for the Lobos, he clearly was proven and reliable. Watching preseason footage you will find him nearly at the end of many crosses.  A little more time in the system and the opportunity to learn from Saborio, Sandoval really has the potential to see good minutes for RSL.  Like Saborio he stands in the box as a target and this will play to his strengths.   Without another similar sized player behind Saborio, it is very reasonable to believe Sandoval will make the roster and serve as a backup to Alvaro. Of all the forwards, Sandoval is the only without any professional experience.  He will certainly be challenged to elevate his skills at the next level.  Once he gathers his timing at the professional level, his worth really may be proved. He may be lacking though in creativity up front and this is really needed to get the ball in and forward. Enter David Viana.

David Viana is a young Portuguese international signed by RSL late last season.  Jason Kreis typically has a very stern view on players receiving playing time when first with the club.  He likes them to learn his system and understand his expectations before they make an appearance for the first team. Viana is perhaps more of a natural midfielder but possesses a high ceiling with his skill set.  He has made appearances as a forward for the Claret and Cobalt and it’s reasonable to believe he may continue to do so.  His limited appearances last season were merit to his ability and potential for this club. Highly skilled over the ball he brings considerable creativity to the final third and a superb ability to utilize space in the box.  This could be exactly what RSL needs, though his age will be apparent in some play. He truly is an exciting aspect of the future of RSL soccer. Along with excitement is the signing of an old face, Robbie Findley.

Robbie Findley’s past experience bodes well for him to be the favorite to get the starting nod from Jason Kreis.  He posted the fastest thirty meter sprint in preseason with an ailing knee.  Findley is likely to be more talented on the ball than he was in his previous stint in the MLS.  After a frustrating stop in England he will be very eager to prove his worth to Kreis.  Despite his speed, his previous play lacked creativity. His speed, at times, was counterintuitive as RSL could not properly feed him a through ball, though I think the midfield brings a lot more talent now. Robbie Findley creates a lot of space in the final third and stretches defenses thus opening scoring opportunities.  If anything, he provides a considerable diversion creating more opportunities for others in scoring position.  The question mark of his productivity will be answered this season, though I am not sure he is the best option for RSL.

The Ecuadorian, Joao Plata is young and very talented. A lot of criticism has been sent his way in regards to statistics and history. I think he is very underrated and previously worked in a system not suiting his strengths, this will change at RSL.  His forward play is not unlike the play of Fabian Espindola, though he is much quicker.  His stop and go play has a near flawless transition and hits his max speed quickly. Talented over the ball he has a very strong strike and an eye for the net.  I think Plata will be making a very big push for a starting position with Real Salt Lake.  At twenty years of age his has youth on his side and much to learn at the professional level.  Along with the talent at Real Salt Lake he will gain greater skills and will see many opportunities playing forward.  It would not surprise me at all if he got the starting nod next to Saborio.

Jason Kreis has often been known to make bold moves in his roster.  Though, the start of this season I do not believe that will be the case.  I think we will see a more conservative move with Alvaro Saborio and Robbie Findley receiving the starting nod.  On paper, their styles complement each other well though I am not sure it will serve the results RSL is looking for.  Saborio is a target for skilled players from the midfield or creative-on-the-ball players like Plata and Viana.  Given his speed, crafty nature and own eye for the net I would like to see Joao Plata starting next to Saborio.  I think its unproven and risky but from the skill set of each; the results will likely be greater.