So a couple months ago when RSL was in the midst of their 10-3-2 start to the season, I started working on a post looking at what might be one of the defining decisions of the Jason Kreis/Garth Lagerway era at Real Salt Lake, what to do with Luis Gil and Javier Morales. This question has taken a number of twists this year, the most recent of which was last Friday night as RSL changed their core formation in order to try to play both in more offensive minded roles.
When I looked at this question it was 15 matches into the season RSL and was off to a hot start, Luis Gil had started in 10 of RSL's 15 first matches. At that time Javier Morales had started in just 6 of RSL's 15 matches, and as we have seen since he shows us moments of brilliance but not the consistency that he had before his injury last year. There is no doubt in my mind that when fully fit and confident that Javier Morales is one of the best creative players in MLS, but at 32 years of age and unable to stay healthy this year one has to wonder what the future holds for him at RSL? What about Luis Gil, the 18 year old will almost certainly graduate from the Generation Adidas program this year, can RSL find room for another salary in the $200K range under the salary cap?
From the start of the season we have been told by RSL leadership that this team was built and kept together for one more run at trophies, and while we flushed out of the US Open Cup in our first match in the tournament, there is still the MLS season and the 2012/13 Champions League. So what happens if we don't?
More after the jump:
While our run at a Supporters' Shield now looks very unlikely at best as our recent form (3-7-2 in last 12), we have seen that if you make the playoffs that anything can happen, but one can now for the first time all year begin to question if RSL will make the playoffs. The gap between RSL and the team in 6th place in the Western Conference was 17 points on June 18th, it was 13 points on July 19th, and today that gap is 11 points, so while it is unlikely that FC Dallas can close that gap in 6 matches they have left, we have seen stranger things.
On the Champions League front things are going a bit better as RSL evened their record at 1-1 with last week's 2-0 win over Tauro FC, but again nothing is for sure, we know that Tauro FC and CS Herediano will face off in Panama later this week. The result of that match could let RSL know what kind of challenge remains. With only the group leaders advancing to next spring's knockout rounds and the seeding for those rounds being based on your group performance it could be a tough road for RSL to get back to the CCL final, but no out of the question. But for the sake of argument let's say that RSL's recent struggles continue and both of the remaining goals go unfulfilled. What does RSL do?
Now with RSL currently having the oldest roster in MLS, or at least that was what the broadcast team on NBC Sports said on Friday night. The key decision is who is your playmaker of the future? We have seen some guys go until 35 or 36, but is Javier Morales one of those guys? Beyond the fitness issues we have the reality of his pay, which according to data released by the MLS players union is just under $500,000 a year.
For Luis Gil, he is just 18 years old and clearly a player still developing his skill set. He hasn't hit the RSL salary cap yet due to his status as a Generation Adidas player but that will end this year as he will graduate from that program and RSL will need to work a new contract with him. According to the players union again, Luis makes just under $200,000 a year. Rumors are that some teams from Europe have already expressed interest and should Gil and the US U20 team qualifies for next year's U20 World Cup that demand could rise with the exposure and a good performance. All of this leads me to 3 possible scenarios:
- Keep Javier long term 3-4 years and look to sell Luis Gil -
- Part ways with Javier and try to resign and keep Luis Gil long term -
- Keep Luis & Javier short term until offers come in for either/both, use profits to try and find/develop new players from South America
Each of those scenarios have both an up and downside that we will look at, the first one would require a bit of a leap of faith by the RSL staff that would have us believe that Javier can really regain the form that he had in 2010 and last year before the injury. I simply haven't seen it for a full match, and given that so far with 7 matches to go in the regular season his two goals and 6 assists are far behind the 7 goals and 9 assists he had in 2010 and the 6 goals and 15 assists in 2008. If he starts every match for the rest of the RSL season he will end the year with 24 starts which isn't a bad number and would have appeared in 30 of 34 RSL matches. I have to believe that his contract would likely stay around $500K a year and he would continue to occupy a DP slot for RSL. Selling Luis Gil now probably isn't a great idea but I have to believe that given his performance this year that we could find a modest offer out there for him and a chance for him to head to Europe where he would likely get a major raise in salary and RSL wouldn't have to deal with trying to find a way to squeeze $200K into are already tight budget.
The second option is interesting as there are probably a few teams within MLS that might offer up some nice compensation for Javi's rights, allocation money, draft picks, or even younger less expensive players. It may be tough to have to face him with another team but the reality is that it happens often within MLS. A lot of people have tried to peg Luis Gil as the next big time creative midfielder for the US, someone who may be able to follow in the very large shoes of Landon Donovan. I can see it, but we are a far way from it at this point, still when you look around the youth ranks you wonder what other options there are for the US? It is impossible to tell what the USMNT will look like as they prepare for the 2018 World Cup, but could a then 24 yr. old Luis Gil play a role in that team, of course he could. What would it mean to RSL's future to have the "next" Landon Donovan on our roster? Would that be enough to get more national TV matches, could it bring in a bigger sponsor than Xango or more local and national sponsors for the team and stadium? When you think about what a RSL 2014 might look like in the midfield, it is interesting Kyle Beckerman would probably still be playing as he would be just 32 and his fitness levels are amazing. Will Johnson is still a young 25 and will likely be a factor for years to come. Could Yordany Alvarez play a position other than d-mid, yes with Cuba he was a more offensive minded outside player and having seen some of his shots in practice I can buy him playing any of a number of positions? Then you have the youngsters, Enzo Martinez, Nico Muniz, and Sebastian Velasquez , all of them 21 or younger and showing a ton of potential. Still you have to think if his development continues as it has the last couple of years that at some point soon that Luis Gil will likely want to try his luck in Europe and should the US quality for the U20 World Cup and show well there, those options are probably going to be hard to resist. Would MLS and RSL be willing to build their future around him? That is the million dollar question.
The final option is to clear some cap room when we can by looking to recreate the discovery process that lead to Javier Morales. There are a lot of players bouncing around the edges in South America, not playing for the biggest clubs but with enough talent to be difference makers in MLS, a lot of them can be signed for lower salaries than players from Europe due to better tax rates and currency stability. Could the right move for a small market team be to not try to keep up with the "Jones" but to outwork them via scouting and development? It makes sense that RSL would look to capitalize on both players, one who may be able to bring some much needed allocation money and perhaps even a way to get back one of our international slots, or some variety of things. While the other will have a real chance to showcase himself early next year and maybe bring in some very big offers during the summer transfer market. Now with MLS you have to remember that any potential transfer fee paid for a player has some conditions attached, first the league takes 1/3 of the fee, and then in the case of Luis Gil, the trade from what is now Sporting KC included a clause that would give them 10% of whatever transfer fee might be collected by RSL.
It is clear that the options are likely greatly tied to what happens over the next few months of the MLS season and in Champions League both this fall and potentially next year. Some other factors also will play a huge role, the futures of Jason Kreis, Garth Lagerway and Bill Manning all of whom will probably have suitors from around MLS and maybe beyond over the next couple of years. One thing is clear, no matter what happens this year in MLS and CCL action, changes are going to happen and happen quickly for RSL.
OFF MY SOAPBOX