As Real Salt Lake readies for a continued transition away from its much-vaunted core group of players and prepares for a new generation, let's take a look at who may be emerging and stepping up into more prominent roles in the squad.
Tony Beltran, without the wise head of Robbie Russell in the side, was thrust into a starting role. Beltran, relatively a veteran among the younger players at RSL, played just over 2,800 minutes for a staggering 65 percent increase over 2011. Despite making one or two crucial errors along the way, the versatile full back has been impressive as he cemented a starting spot. In doing so, he played more minutes than any other RSL player in 2012, appearing in 93 percent of the minutes available.
Posting significantly more minutes is Javier Morales, whose return from injury has gone perhaps a bit better than expected. Last season, the playmaker saw only 785 minutes as a result of the ankle fracture - that he saw that many minutes at all was a testament to his willingness to fight to return at the end of the season - but this season, he's made a triumphant return with 2,119 minutes: a 170 percent increase.
Chris Wingert also saw a big bump in minutes (36 percent, for 2,603 minutes played), largely owing to a wrist injury and hamstring issues in 2011. This year, Wingert proved his fitness was at a high level, and as such he's had very few problems staying in the side, playing 85 percent of the minutes available to him. With other defensive injuries to worry about, his consistency has been of the utmost importance.
Youngster Luis Gil also saw a significant increase in minutes as he continues his development under the tutelage of Jason Kreis. 1,600 minutes for the kid meant a 25 percent increase over 2011, which is particularly significant considering that he was thrust in as a positional replacement for the now-returned Javier Morales.
Without international duty (particularly the Gold Cup) to keep him out of the squad, Alvaro Saborio has seen a 24 percent increase in minutes as he finally broke the 2,000 minute barrier. On his way to ending the season as third-highgest scorer in MLS, the striker played 2,390 minutes.
In a testament to his increasing importance to Real Salt Lake, Fabian Espindola saw a nearly 10 percent increase in playing time - 2,293 minutes, up from 2,096 - for about 75 percent of the available minutes.
Finally, Kyle Beckerman saw a slight increase, despite being more involved with the U.S. squad. This is in part because he avoided a three-game suspension from a stupid red card (he did receive a card in 2012, but without the additional two-match ban). In terms of minutes played, Beckerman is behind only Tony Beltran (94%), Nick Rimando (91%) and Chris Wingert (85%).
With two major players out of the side in Andy Williams and Robbie Russell, most of the core saw increased minutes. Only a few saw anything approaching significant decreases: Nat Borchers, Jamison Olave, and Chris Schuler - highlighting just how vital the arrival of Kwame Watson-Siriboe and the presence of a flexible defender like Chris Wingert has been.
Nat Borchers played about 8 percent less than in 2011 as he shows a steady decline from his stellar 2010 season (in which he played 99 percent of the available minutes). Injuries have limited him slightly, but 77 percent of minutes played isn't a bad mark.
Jamison Olave played about 18 percent less, illustrating the same sort of decline Borchers has showed but at a more steep angle. Having played under 1,800 minutes, the continuity in defense has struggled with at least one of the center backs frequently out of contention.
Finally, Chris Schuler missed large swathes of the season with a concern over a foot bone stress response - a faint echo of the injury that cut his 2010 campaign short just as he built momentum, though the problem then was in his other foot. Though his time on the pitch has showed well, he will be disappointed to have played 42 percent fewer minutes than in 2011. Even still, the nearly 1,000 minutes played in 2012 illustrates the growing role the center back plays at Real Salt Lake.
|Player||2010||2011||2012||average||% growth '11-'12||2012 pct played||2011 pct played||2010 pct played|
* Table includes only players who appeared in both 2012 and 2011 for Real Salt Lake.