That magnificently loud cracking noise you just heard was the RSL squad being split into pieces. A cacophonous roar, that; just like that, swathes of the core were stripped away, leaving exposed a new-look base for a group.
After a season in which expectations were so high and big achievements were lacking, change was coming — but this sort of change? I didn't expect it at season's end, when we were repeatedly told it would be a difficult transitionary process.
What, exactly, has happened, then? Let's run through each tier of exit and discuss what exactly that means.
Waived, no re-entry draft
Both Jonny Steele and Emiliano Bonfigli were released from the club, and because they exit with only one year of MLS play under their belt, they are ineligible for the re-entry draft. Real Salt Lake holds their rights at current, which can be traded, dealt, or perhaps used as kindling.
Losing Bonfigli is certainly the easiest of the two to stomach. He never quite looked up to the level we needed, and though he possessed some lethal finishing ability (see: MLS Reserves hat trick), his runs and movement weren't up to par. That was, I'd imagine, the death knell to his RSL career.
Losing Steele is a slightly different issue. Though he took some not inconsiderable flak, he did bring something useful in his work rate and ever-consistent work in training. Those sorts of things are important to have in a squad; optimally, you also couple that with top-level technical ability, but just having that workman balance in the squad is valuable.
Re-Entry Draft Eligible
The only two players we held under contract last year that will be eligible for the first round of the re-entry draft are Paulo Jr. and Kyle Reynish. Each represents a different reason they'd leave, one for personal development, and one for a lack of fulfilled promise.
Kyle Reynish, of course, is the former. He played only a smattering of games for Real Salt Lake, and though he was clearly a great shot-stopper, was found lacking in other parts of his game. This is to be expected: Consistency and positional longevity are the two biggest assets to a goalkeeper's development. With the move, perhaps he can land somewhere where he can legitimately challenge for the top spot. With Nick Rimando at the club, that was never really going to happen for him.
Reynish would, I think, be an excellent pick-up for an MLS squad looking to rebuild in the goalkeeping position, and I do hope he ends up somewhere where he will play.
Paulo Jr., on the other hand, was a promising young player who just, well, didn't end up fulfilling that promise with us. He's still young, and he's still got a lot of ability, but keeping him with a pay hike would seem untenable. He never really did anything to stand out as a striker — you know, scoring goals, grabbing assists — save at the beginning of his RSL career years ago now.
Here's where things get painful. Let's start at the easy end.
Justin Braun was sent to Toronto FC in exchange for defender Aaron Maund, a young, quick center back who may be lacking a bit of technical ability. The move seems an astute one: Maund comes with a small price tag and brings defensive depth; Braun is off where he might try to make a new impact. It's a bit sad: In just over a year's time, he's been at four clubs. Something seems terribly amiss in his career, and while he clearly has gobs of ability, he's not scored a goal since September 2011.
And the ones that really hurt now.
Espindola is a mercurial, hot-headed striker. Sometimes, he wasn't happy — it was obvious. He was valuable, sure, and he brought a lot to the game, but you never knew what you were going to get. That's good, to an extent. However, it also undoubtedly applied to some backroom behavior as well, and though nothing's confirmed, there were consistent rumblings that he was a disruptive influence. Will we miss him? You bet. There are few players like him. He works until he drops, he lives for the game — but he just, well, needs a bit of calm sometimes.
He also brings with him a fair deal of salary consideration, such was the structuring of his contract, and that makes it a difficult proposition to keep him — at least while his production was coming only in spurts and starts.
Jamison Olave is a more wistful departure for me. This year wasn't kind to him: He saw the pitch only 21 times, fewer than any other season before for him, and when he was out there, he seemed, well, distracted. Whether that was down to a mentality issue or a physical deficit is hard to say efficiently, and perhaps we're never really going to know this. But it was clear that Olave was, frankly, past it a bit. It's painful, but it's true.
The biggest one, though, is Will Johnson, who is off to Portland Timbers for allocation money. Johnson was ever the consummate professional, working hard every day both on and off the pitch. Despite his hard-nosed playing demeanor, he was always a thoughtful, engaging player. His playing skill was fantastic, too, even if he lacked a bit in the final third — but being rid of him means being rid of a $250,000-plus salary, and in these hard times, with allocation money ruling the day, he was always vulnerable.
Johnson will be the most-missed, I think. The player was dependable, consistent, and influential in the squad. Rebuilding without him — a player plenty peg as one for the future — is a painful process.
Just like this whole thing is.