We spent a good deal of the preseason talking about "depth charts," wondering who would play where, given the many departures that hit Real Salt Lake's squad in the interim between November and March. It would be elucidative to wonder about and discuss where we are now and where we could be come season's end.
Where is it
Goalkeeper: Our depth here is unrivaled; Josh Saunders comes in as an experienced first-stringer but is playing as a backup to Nick Rimando. Jeff Attinella and Lalo Fernandez are thus given more development time, but if called upon, Attinella could do a capable job.
Defense: Injuries in the defensive line hurt early on, but with Nat Borchers back to 90-minute fitness and Chris Wingert approaching that, things are shored up. Chris Schuler has stepped up well, making a few mistakes along the way, while Kwame Watson-Siriboe has been an efficient backup. Wingert's backup, Abdoulie Mansally, has looked just that - a backup - although one who really excites, while Lovel Palmer, capable of playing on either side at full back, has put in some good shifts.
Midfield: The biggest cull happened here: Without notable strongman Will Johnson, Jason Kreis's side was left in a bit of a bind. In his place comes not a player but a tactical rethink; gone are the days of spreading the outside-of-the-diamond players wide. It's almost as if Sebastian Velasquez and Ned Grabavoy have been playing as inverted central midfielders, and though there may be an element of splitting hairs here, it differs substantially from the days of Will Johnson bombing down the left side. Velasquez has been an important player in the new midfield, and incoming veteran Khari Stephenson has looked a significantly better fit in the system than might have been expected. The steady return of Javier Morales has restored things to a more stable form, as well.
Forward: Here's where everything's changed, really. Robbie Findley's back, Joao Plata's here, Olmes Garcia popped out of obscurity and is already starting to escalate his mystique, and Devon Sandoval has been an effusive, efficient rookie. All but Sandoval offer a specific skill set that directly complements Alvaro Saborio's hold-up play; Sandoval offers somewhat the same look, making him an important backup, and one who has received surprising minutes in 2013.
Where could it be?
Goalkeeper: Not much is going to change over the course of the year, we say with our fingers rather firmly crossed. We'll get to experience more of that heralded depth when Nick Rimando is off with the U.S. Men's National Team, but it would really seem Josh Saunders is the definitive backup goalkeeper. Perhaps one of Attinella and Fernandez will be off to a club on loan, such that they can either keep up playing time or get some in the first place, respectively.
Defense: The one name on everybody's lips - those who know him, at least - is Carlos Salcedo. Salcedo is young, yes, but he's strong, smart and skillful. Those three S-attributes (which makes it sound rather more complicated than it really is) are the basis for a ball-playing center back. He could be right in the mix when we're talking about defensive options come season's end. Further, Mansally's development - remember, he is still fairly young - will be an interesting talking point as well.
Midfield: If Velasquez maintains his pace of development and Luis Gil can continue his outside of time with the U.S. U-20s, RSL will be in a strong position, but still one that doesn't seem quite at the level it was before. But the depth that's coming in behind is important: Rookie John Stertzer has looked an interesting option, Enzo Martinez remains close to the first-team, and Yordany Alvarez has impressed as a defensive midfielder. The outside of the diamond is perhaps deeper than it's been in years. David Viana remains an intriguing option, but having only just returned from a leg injury, where he's at come season's end is up to him.
Forward: If Findley finds form (alliteration!), Plata continues to impress and develops a good understanding with Saborio, Garcia builds on his early excitement, and Sandoval keeps at his patient development with Saborio as an elusive, quiet mentor - well, things could be indelibly good. For the first time since perhaps 2009 or 2010, we could have true, genuine competition among our forwards.