Season Preview: Squad retooling sees RSL with opportunities

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake moves into 2013 with a retooled squad and a tactical refocus on attack. With young players set for opportunities, new players looking for chances and veterans aiming to prove their worth, it's promising to be an exciting — if stressful — season.

Last year's record

57 points; Western Conference, second place; W: 17; D: 6; L: 11

It was hardly as well as we could — or should — have done, and that record doesn't much reflect the CONCACAF Champions League group stage exit, nor the US Open Cup failure, nor the early playoff exit to Seattle. It wasn't the best of seasons, and a retooling has taken place in part as a result, and in part because of the restrictive nature of MLS.

Key additions

Robbie Findley: The striker returns to the club after a two-year stint at Nottingham Forest (with time on loan at Gillingham) and has looked an improved player in preseason. If Findley, at the physical peak of his career, can find individual success, the club will have a good shot at winning trophies.

Joao Plata: He's the sort of player that 'diminutive striker' as a cliche was built for. He's got fantastic acceleration, is very good with his feet, and isn't afraid to shoot. He'll be a much-welcome addition to the striking force.

Olmes Garcia: There's not much yet to be said about Garcia, given that we've seen only bits and pieces of him during his very short preseason. Still, there's much promise and hope that he'll be a fantastic addition.

Khari Stephenson: An experienced player, Stephenson brings a bit of stability and an older, wiser head to a considerably younger midfield than we've fielded before.

Josh Saunders: Saunders, formerly of consecutive-cup-winners LA Galaxy, comes in to provide reliable backup for Nick Rimando. He'll likely be called on when Rimando goes off to the Gold Cup with the U.S. Men's National Team.

Less key: Cole Grossman, Lovel Palmer, John Stertzer, Devon Sandoval

Key losses

Jamison Olave: The immensely physical defender was a huge (literally and figuratively) part of our back line for five years, but concerns over his ability to remain fit every week — as well as a sizable paycheck — saw him shuttled off to New York alongside ...

Fabian Espindola: The effervescent striker in a side that sometimes lacked magic, Espindola delighted fans with his goalscoring ability. Inconsistency plagued him during his time at Real Salt Lake, though, and in the end, he, too, is off to New York.

Will Johnson: The Canadian-American-somewhat-British midfielder was an essential part of Real Salt Lake's tactical approach, but a reshaping of that approach saw him traded to Portland Timbers. Johnson, whose salary likely was the damning factor, was very much a part of Real Salt Lake's identity. With his departure, opportunities arise in midfield — as well as a chance for a more attacking look to form.

Less key: Paulo Jr., Jonny Steele, Emiliano Bonfigli, Justin Braun, Nico Muñiz


Luis Gil: The 19-year-old is on the verge of cracking his abilities, and while he didn't turn too many heads in 2012, he gained a consistency that belies his years. Moving forward, he'll have the chance to really make his mark on MLS.

Sebastian Velasquez: The young, bright attacking midfielder will get early chances to prove his worth; if he's ready and performs well, he'll be forcing Jason Kreis to make some difficult decisions.

David Viana: Young, attack-minded, skillful, and eager to cut inside: Viana is the prototypical sort of young, European attacking midfielder that turns heads in top leagues. He's not quite at that level yet, but the 21-year-old could well make waves in 2013.

Enzo Martinez: Though he didn't see the field in 2012, Martinez has developed incredibly well and responded well to the inevitable pains of not playing. His best position in the diamond is still unclear, but he'll just be hoping for minutes.

Projected starting lineup

Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Schuler, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Gil, Morales; Saborio, Findley

Subs: Saunders, Watson-Siriboe, Velasquez, Grossman, Viana, Plata

Optimistic prediction

After a stop-start 2012, Real Salt Lake finally starts firing on all metaphorical cylinders, goals flow in, and the Supporters Shield is hardly an issue. Optimistic? Obviously. But the pieces are in place for a fantastic year — it's simply a matter of those pieces fitting together properly.

Pessimistic prediction

Real Salt Lake creeps into the playoff picture late in the season and narrowly makes the play-in qualifier, but loses to — of course — Seattle Sounders. Who else, right?

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