A closer look at the Real Salt Lake 2012 roster Part 2 - Midfielders and Defenders

Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers the heart of the RSL defense.

So last week I took a look at the two positions where I think RSL has great depth, Keepers and Forwards. Since that post RSL actually released Chris Agorsor, who I had at #5 on my forward depth chart, it appears that Emiliano Bonfigli has used his opportunity to move up the depth chart and right now looks on track to make the RSL roster. Another big piece of news was made official after that post as RSL formally announced that they had new contracts with Fabian Espindola and Ned Grabavoy, as well as securing permanent transfers for both Yordany Alvarez and Paulo Jr.

So now let's take a look at the positions where there are in my mind some questions.

Midfield - Now things get a lot more interesting in the midfield simply because of the numbers and question marks, perhaps the biggest question is has Javier Morales fully recovered from the devastating injury he suffered in 2011? I don't think anyone who watched him play in the final 10 matches of the RSL season would say that he was even close to being back to 75%, let alone 100%. So has the off-season allowed Javier to fully recover? This is the final year of Javi's current deal and almost everyone believes it would take a DP level deal to re-sign him, for me it will be more about can Javi at 32 show that he is back to the form that had him a legit MVP candidate in 2010?

If you looked at the first 2/3 of the MLS season you had to consider Kyle Beckerman a top 5 MVP candidate, with 3 goals and 9 assists he had stepped up as the team leader in almost every way you could expect, then came the headbutt, and the suspension for 2 additional matches. That combined with USMNT callups result in Kyle not playing the final 5 matches of the year for RSL, a streak in which RSL didn't win a single match. I expect that Kyle will be missing for most of the FIFA dates this year, and with him starting the pre-season with a bit of an injury, I am hoping we get the Kyle who made everyone look twice and pay attention last year.

Then there is Will Johnson, one of the hardest working men in all of Major League Soccer and the ultimate team player. Will has done whatever, whenever he has been asked since joining RSL and that mentality makes him a fan favorite. While he will see the summer also call him away for FIFA dates as Canada tries to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, I have a feeling that this could be a very big year for Will both at the club and country level.

more after the jump:

You don't replace Andy Williams, not on the field and not in the hearts of the fans, it simply can't be done. Yet Ned Grabavoy will likely get the task of filling in the final spot of the RSL diamond, and if you know one thing about Ned he will be up for whatever is put in front of him. While we often think of him as a more defensive minded midfielder you have to remember it was his late goal against Seattle in the playoffs last year that put RSL thru to the Western Conference Final, in fact if you remember back to 2009 it was Ned who got that winning PK in Chicago. Ned has been asked to be a more defensive player since joining RSL, but I expect that with more minutes you will see more things like what he did on Sunday with a great shot that got past a diving Nick Rimando and found the back of the net.

Then comes the depth, gone are Collen Warner (5 assists, 24 matches played in), Artruro Alvarez (1 assist, 16 matches played in), Jean Alexandre (1 goal, 2 assists, 19 matches played in), Nelson Gonzalez (1 goals, 1 assist, 6 matches played in), but coming back is one of the surprises of 2011 and one of the players most expect to make big noise in 2012 Luis Gil, add in one of the top midfielders in the recent MLS draft Enzo Martinez, the signing of Yordany Alvarez, as well as other draft picks and trialists ( I believe at least 2 will stick) and it is very clear that pressure on younger players to be able to produce will be higher than it has in the past, but with the guys RSL is bringing in, I think it may be less of a challenge than in the past.

There are two guys in camp that are trialists Lewis Neal, who has had a couple trials with RSL and has played most recently with Orlando City SC and is from Leicster, at 31 he could bring a bit more experience to a RSL midfield that has become much younger in the last couple months. There is also Jonny Steele, who has bounced around the globe after starting his career with Wolverhampton Wanders in 2004, he is 26 years old and most recently played with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

1. Javier Morales
2. Kyle Beckerman
3. Will Johnson
4. Ned Grabavoy
5. Luis Gil - GA
6. Yordany Alvarez
7. Enzo Martinez- GA
8. Nico Muniz - HGP
9. Sebastian Velasquez
10. Jonny Steele/Lewis Neal

Defenders

So I found myself scratching my head when I looked at the RSL defense and wondered why I was having any questions about our backline, I mean we have two guys who have been finalists for MLS defender of the year in back to back years in Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers. We have Chris Wingert, who despite his "Hellboy" cast had a great year in 2011, and then we have Tony Beltran who I am baffled why he hasn't gotten a look from Jurgen with the USMNT. Added into those 4 is the guy who showed great improvement in 2011 and could be one of the best hid secrets in MLS, Chris Schuler. Chris was able to back up 3 of the 4 backline positions when others were injured or unable to play, and I can't wait to see the continued improvement he shows in 2012.

Now we did lose some depth with the trade of Robbie Russell to DC United, and the release of Rauwshan McKenzie (on trail with Chivas USA), and Blake Wagner (on trial with the New England Revolution). RSL did address that lack of depth with their 2nd draft pick when they selected SMU defender Diogo de Almeida and then added Leone Cruz via a trade with Seattle. There are also a couple others on trial with the team, former Vancouver Whitecap Wes Knight, supplemental draft pick Samir Bengelloun, who most recently played in Bulgaria and has trialed with the team before and Terukazu Tanaka who was found on a Far East scouting trip and plays in the Japanese 2nd division.

Diogo was described by RSL GM Garth Lagerway as the first player who is a natural left back to be on the RSL roster in several years, which could mean that he could see a lot of action as the pre-season kicks into high gear.

Leone Cruz was selected in the second round of the 2011 MLS draft by the Seattle Sounders, and was a player that I was hoping RSL would select last year, but we sold our first round draft pick and he was gone shortly after that. Leone played with the RSL reserves a couple times after being released by the Sounders last year, and that was enough for the RSL staff to be willing to trade a supplemental draft pick to Seattle for his rights. He could provided that needed depth at center back that RSL may need in 2012.

So with 4 great starters for our backline, and some interesting options to provide depth, I expect that we might see 3 or even 4 of these new players find a role with the team. In 2011 we saw each of our starters miss time with injuries and while I doubt we will see as many injuries, establishing some nice depth for our defense will be a huge part of the pre-season.

1. Jamison Olave
2. Nat Borchers
3. Tony Beltran
4. Chris Wingert
5. Chris Schuler
6. Leone Cruz
7. Diogo de Almeida
8. Knight/Bengelloun/Tanaka

Now remember that all my rankings are based off my opinion and without having actually spent any time at any of the pre-season training sessions, I am relying on twitter and other reports as to how players are doing.

Anyhow I hope you enjoyed this look at the players fighting for a spot on the RSL roster, later this week I will take a closer look at the rules that surround the rosters of MLS teams and how they might impact the decision that the RSL staff will have to make.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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