Across the league we have seen a trend of bringing in the aged, experienced and savvy footballer from Europe. Most notably, it started with David Beckham to the LA Galaxy and recently followed up with Robbie Keane and Carlo Cudicini. The experience has been good to teams and with back-to-back MLS Championships has been rewarding for the LA Galaxy. However, at Real Salt Lake they sing a different tune. RSL believes in the team as the star, and this offseason has made a move to completely change the face of the club.
Real Salt Lake moved many fan-favorite players out of the clubhouse. Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola were sent to New York. Both considered established, producing players in the MLS. Additionally RSL offloaded the hard-working and spirited Will Johnson. Will’s regular appearances with the Canadian National Team were a testament to his class. All three players were strong assets for RSL and preferred starters. However, salary cap, changing times and meeting the needs of the organization deemed a different path for these players and others. Johnny Steele, Emiliano Bonfigli, Kyle Reynish, Arujo Paulo Jr, and Justin Braun were also released during the offseason. A mass exodus of players leading to a shuffle and new faces.
This preseason has been filled with trialists, draftees, and new signings. A final roster is far from being determined and competition for places increases with each day. Though, this competition is not straight-forward. Through preseason many players have injuries to include many of the “normal starters.” Chris Wingert, Nat Borchers, Javier Morales all sit with injuries that require more attention and they have weeks or months until their return. Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Ned Grabavoy, and new acquisition Robbie Findley all have bumps that require some nursing until they are ready to go. Luis Gil and Alvaro Saborio have not had much participation in camps due to International Duty. This leaves a very youthful roster in camp competing with one another.
Out with the old, in with the new is the title for good reason. Many of the new faces in camp are very young players indeed. Three draftees are trying to make their presence felt. John Stertzer was pulled in to strengthen a depleted midfield, Brock Granger to bolster a new defensive back line and Devon Sandoval to help with the attack. Of these three, John Stertzer is probably positioned for the best chance at playing time, though Devon Sandoval presents himself as a great apprentice to Alvaro Saborio. New signings often create excitement and this season has been no different. An old face is new again; Robbie Findley has been re-acquried by Real Salt Lake. His speed is very welcome but will it turn in to production? Another speedster, Joao Plata was also signed. The younger Ecuadorian is fast and good on the ball. Lovel Palmer, a Jamaican International player, has signed to support the back line and possibly midfield. Aaron Maund was traded for Justin Braun and he hopes to be playing centerback. Cole Grossman also signed to assist in the midfield. In what seems a mass competition for depth at goalkeeper, Jeff Anttinella was signed from the NASL. Along with signees we have seen many trialists in preseason camp with Josh Saunders (GK), Justin Davis (DF) and Khari Stephenson (MF) making appearances recently. Last, but not least, we have seen Benji Lopez of the RSL Academy has been traveling with the team through preseason and continues to impress. He stands a good chance of being next homegrown player for RSL.
A lot of new faces and with only a few weeks left of the preseason the roster is not any more set than it was at the release of some of RSL’s finest. Talks remain there is still another forward to be signed that will add more depth up front. Who that is remains to be seen and talks still seem a couple weeks away. Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis have certainly made a lot of moves to change the dynamics of Real Salt Lake. A considerable amount of youth is on trial really dropping the average age of this team. RSL has maintained a very solid core of players and savvy veterans to guide and lead this youth though many may not see the pitch soon due to injury. The upcoming Desert Diamond Cup should be a good place to see who will be staying with Real Salt Lake.