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One month and counting down to San Jose

In 30 days I will be in San Jose waiting for the match to start.  While it is too early to guess at the starting lineup with any real facts (as the team has just one scrimmage so far) and by then we could see the players and their union change their "work without a contract" stance, or the owners change their "no lockout" position.  But let's look at what we do know about RSL.

Goalkeeper: I imagine that RSL will likely go with just two keepers in 2010, the starter is clearly Nick Rimando and the backup is Kyle Reynish.  Nick is coming off a year in which he was solid in goal but suffered an injury that kept him out of a couple matches, but he still was the man in net for 26 regular season matches and posted a 1.14 GAA.  Nick shined in the playoffs, with a 0.64 GAA in the 4 matches and two shutouts, plus add in winning in two PK shootouts and a MLS Cup MVP honor and it is clear that Nick is the man when it comes to RSL goal keepers.

Defenders: Real Salt Lake featured 5 players on defense last year, RSL's Ironman Nat Borchers missed just 21 minutes of action in 2009 and we can expect more of the same from him in 2010.  Chris Wingert played over 2400 of the 2700 minutes last year and while he still hasn't scored a goal in a MLS league match, he has been a solid defender and should have no problem keeping his starting spot.  Jamison Olave is a question mark as he is still recovering from off season surgery, when healthy and playing in control as he did at the end of 2009 he proves fans right "Olave is a Verb".  If his injury keeps him out of a couple matches it will likely be Robbie Russell who will fill in as he did so often in 2009, with good size and great speed Russell spent time filling in for Olave and Beltran on the back line.  

More after the jump:

It was the other "Robbie" who made the shot heard round MLS in November, and Russell has to still be riding a good boost of confidence from his play in the playoffs last year and I look for him to be an important part in 2010.

If I had to pick a most improved player for RSL in 2009 that honor would go to Tony Beltran, not only is he a machine on the dance floor but with Tony there truly is "more than meets the eye", as players in the EPL are finding out covering Landon Donovan is not an easy task.  Tony proved that he was up to that task and more, he took on the best and brightest one on one in a number of matches and most often he came out on top of the matchups.  

I think we could see more of a couple players getting time on the backline, David Horst, and Jean Alexandre have the size and toughness to fill in on the backline.  We also have some young players who will be challenging to get their names in the 18 for match days; Rauwshan McKenzie who comes off waivers from KC, draft picks Chris Schuler and Justin Davis both will be looking to work their way into playing time this year.

Midfield: With almost 2,000 minutes of playing time and 7 assists to go with his 2 goals, the departure of Clint Mathis will add some pressure on the RSL midfield, most notably on Andy Williams.  Javier Morales appears to have fully recovered from the injury he suffered in the MLS Cup and has been active in practices all preseason,  Kyle Beckerman has spend little time with his teammates as he has spent a majority of his off season in USMNT camps and played in both of their matches so far in 2010.  Will Johnson got a call up to the Canadian national team in the off-season as well, so the likelihood that our starting 4 midfielders in a couple of weeks will be the same as it was in the MLS Cup match is very high.  Super sub Ned Grabavoy looks posed to play a larger role with the departure of Clint Mathis as well, his performance in the Eastern Conference final and the MLS Cup both have made people pay more attention to how well he has done.

There will be some real competition for first team minutes as Nelson Gonzalez continues his development, Collen Warner has a lot of people looking close at RSL's first round pick, and then you have the continued development of both Raphael Cox and Jean Alexandre.  One thing is clear there will be a lot more minutes for RSL this year as they play at least 7 additional matches this year, in the midfield those minutes will have a lot of people fighting to claim their share of them.

Forwards: With the departure of Yura Movsisyan there is a hole in our front line, and while RSL golden boot Robbie Findley is going strong off 3 straight callups to the USMNT there is a huge opportunity for someone to step up.  Can it be the Fabian Espindola completes a return to his high scoring 2008 form after off season surgery?  Will journeyman Abe Thompson finally deliver results worthy of his talent?  Can Pablo Campos gain favor with the staff and work his way back into the lineup?

Of all the positions this one has most fans the most concerned, many thought RSL would go looking for an off season pickup.  They are right they did but none of them have panned out, by no means does that mean that I think they have finished looking.  

So what will the starting 11 look like in 29 days?

The 7 on the bench?  I am going with Reynish, Horst, Alexandre, Grabavoy, Warner, Cox, Campos

I will be there along with over 100 RSL fans to see if my picks are right or not.