If you were a Real Salt Lake fan in 2010 you experienced one of the greatest seasons a MLS team has ever had, the defending MLS Cup Champs, 1st MLS team to win a group in the CONCACAF Champions League, undefeated at home, top scoring offense, best defense, in fact it was everything except winning the supporters' shield and MLS Cup again that a fan could want.
Now we hit 2011 and it is hard to believe that despite all the good things from 2010 that we may have only scratched the surface. Real Salt Lake is just 7 weeks away from their first match of 2011, and less than 3 weeks away from the start of the season for players. The rest of the staff has been busy, securing Saborio for 3 more years, extending the loan of Paulo Junior, adding Arturo to the roster, and working on extensions for Johnson, Borchers, and Rimando. They held their own combine as they will look to add some developmental or home grown players to the roster either before the MLS Draft on Jan. 13th or after. RSL will have the #14 pick in the 1st round, and then the #52 pick in the 3rd round, and with a roster that is the deepest in MLS a player will really have to stand out in order to get the attention of Jason, Garth and the rest of the RSL staff.
We know 13 of the players who have already signed with MLS, 9 of them have been signed to Generation Adidas contracts (a huge advantage for teams who don't have to count those players against their salary cap). More players will be announced in a couple days and then they will head to Florida for the MLS Combine. With only developmental slots left open it will be interesting to see what moves RSL will make.
For fans of the MLS Draft (I am not one of them) the SB Nation will be doing a two round mock draft on Wednesday and I will try to pick the best player for RSL, but to be honest if you look at our lineup it is hard to find any gaps that need filling.
more after the jump:
After the actual draft on the 13th it will be 1 week until RSL's players are due to show up in Salt Lake to get ready for the start of the preseason. They will get ready by doing some training both in Arizona and Salt Lake before they head to Columbus in mid-February to get ready for the 22nd when they will start their 2011 season by facing the re-building Columbus Crew, 8 players out, including Hedjuk, GBS, Carroll, Moffat, and others, so far they have only brought just 3 players in and none bigger than Jeff Cunningham returning to the Crew. The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals should be entertaining.
RSL will then head home for a March 1st second leg of their CCL matchup and hopefully getting ready to represent MLS in the semifinals. That will mean that RSL would host the first leg of that matchup sometime between the 15th and 17th of March, just days before their MLS regular season opener at San Jose. That March 19th match will see RSL return to the venue that saw them open their 2010 campaign with a huge 3-1 win.
San Jose is an interesting team, while they made the playoffs and eliminated New York in the first round before losing the Eastern Conference final to Colorado. In the offseason, they have taken a path similar to Columbus by losing or letting go a number of players (6 in total), but unlike the Crew they haven't brought in anyone yet. Gone are Joe Cannon, Geovanni, Eduardo, and to the benefit of RSL Arturo Alvarez. You have to wonder what surprises they will pull out over the next couple weeks as the international transfer window opens.
The home opener for Real Salt Lake will take place one week later as they play host to the only team to have more points than them in 2010 and their foes from the 2009 MLS Cup, as the Los Angeles Galaxy will come to town on March 26th. LA will have played 2 league matches before they head to Rio Tinto, as they will open the season on March 16th at the Sounders and then have their home opener on the 20th against the New England Revolution. I have to believe that someone will be sending camera to town for that match, clearly one of the best early matches of the 2011 season.
For me there may be no bigger date for RSL than April 26-28th, which would be the 2nd leg of the CCL final and that match should be played at Rio Tinto Stadium. Winning the Champions League would be a real jewel in the RSL crown that not only would mark a history making step for Major League Soccer, but it would also get the team an invite to play in the FIFA World Club Cup in December. Talk about a serious road trip, does anyone speak Japanese? For RSL the upside could be huge on the financial side, not only hosting some well attended matches but the prize money for winning the CCL and even just showing up at the World Club Cup are huge and could make a significant difference on contracts moving forward for the team.
For RSL 2011, should be another record breaking and making season. With the loss of Robbie Findley, David Horst, and Alex Nimo, RSL lost some young talent but with neither Horst or Nimo seeing action for RSL the real loss is Robbie Findley. His 5 goals and 4 assists will leave a hole for RSL to fill, but recent pick up Alvarez and having Paulo Junior ready to play a bigger role for RSL should mean that there is no offensive drop off for the team. It is hard to expect more than making the MLS Playoffs, and with nobody knowing what thoughts or plans "the Don" has for the 2011 playoffs it should be interesting.
RSL won't have the burden of the CCL matches at the end of the year like they did in 2010, but hopefully not having those matches will mean that RSL will make a deeper run in the US Open Cup this year. While RSL may not have the fancy name DP's, and while ESPN may chose to show matches from larger markets the reality is that RSL plays some of the very best and most entertaining soccer in MLS and in 2011 they should once again excel at all aspects of the game.
OFF MY SOAPBOX