State of the Squad: Deep midfield lacks deep experience

George Frey

We keep talking about how deep Real Salt Lake's midfield is this year, but let's take a look at it. While it's deep, some might argue that it's as inexperienced a midfield as the club has seen in some time — and with that comes some real promise, as well as a few risks.

There is, of course, a keystone group of the midfield as it currently stands: Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy, and Javier Morales; all three veterans with buckets of matches for the club under their belts.

With those three shouldering the veteran load, there are inevitably gaps. Grabavoy has missed a handful of matches every season since arriving, Beckerman could be involved in U.S. national team matches throughotu the summer, and Morales is yet to find consistent form since returning from injury.

In MLS play: Beckerman, 299 GP / 270 GS; Grabavoy, 188 GP / 139 GS; Morales, 127 GP / 115 GS

The second tier of midfielders consists of players who have played at least a few matches in MLS action. Luis Gil is the obvious standout here, with over 50 games played for Real Salt Lake. Yordany Alvarez follows with 20 matches played; Cole Grossman has played a handful of matches in his two MLS years, as has Sebastian Velasquez in his one year.

In MLS play: Gil, 54 GP / 33 GS; Alvarez, 20 GP / 9 GS; Grossman, 12 GP / 5 GS; Velasquez, 9 GP / 5 GS

The third tier consists of more untested players. David Viana, who arrived late last season, is here because he's played fewer than 30 minutes for the club. Enzo Martinez has only reserves minutes under his belt, while John Stertzer has only just arrived out of the draft.

It is also worth considering that a player like Lovel Palmer, nominally a defender, is capable of playing in the diamond midfield as well. But when we take a good look at the midfield, we'll see it's incredibly raw. But here's the thing: That's not so different from past seasons. The big difference is the departure of Will Johnson, who added a vaguely veteran element to the left side of the diamond.

The look of the midfield opens up a space for a player like Khari Stephenson — a near-veteran MLS midfielder (In MLS play, 78 GP/49 GS), the former San Jose player has been pegged for a side-of-the-diamond role, should he sign. From the look of things, the midfield is lacking in something. Sure, there's tons of potential there, but it's a setup that hardly inspires confidence on the face of things.

One can readily imagine what things might be like if Javier Morales hadn't returned to the club. The midfield would be less a player who has played well over 100 matches in the league, whose veteran influence helps shape the locker room. Doubts about his abilities may remain for some, but his influence is unmistakable.

Would one player change all that? Hardly. It is, as some have said, a rebuilding — or perhaps a retooling — year for the club, and the transition isn't bound to be easy. But the relative similarity to 2012 eases things a bit.

As the season approaches — fewer than 30 days now — we're likely to learn more about the future of Khari Stephenson with the club, and once it all kicks off, we're sure to learn what exactly we can expect out of the second and third tiers of the midfield.

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