So I have looked at the keepers, the defenders and now it is time to look at the midfield and of course that has to start with the guy who wears the armband for Real Salt Lake:
Perhaps no moment other than RSL winning the MLS Cup has been bigger for the franchise than the trade with the Colorado Rapids that brought Kyle Beckerman to RSL for Medhi Ballouchy. Kyle is just 28 years old but has over 19,000 minutes of MLS experience and has been in the league since 2000. Since coming to RSL he has moved to the defensive midfielder position but he continues each year to show that opposing teams better pay close attention to him when he has the ball, as he has had multiple goals each year since joining RSL. When I watch Kyle play I am simply amazed that this ball of energy and tenacity is the same laid back and mellow guy off the pitch, I admire Kyle for always making time for the fans, it has made him a huge favorite around Salt Lake City.
The rest of the midfield after the jump:
Javier Morales is a special player, when he is on he is capable of controlling a match all by himself, when he is off he is still one of the better offensive midfielders in MLS. What is so very amazing are the little things that he does, a quick glance to let a teammate know when to make a run, a move of the body which fakes out a defender. Most pundits out there credit him with making RSL's midfield one of the very best in the league, and many have him listed as a MVP candidate this year. I expect a big year from Javi, it seems that he is learning how to adjust his style and tactics better and is quickly able to counter what opposing teams try to limit his effectiveness.
Andy Williams, no player better represents the spirit and heart of the organization than does Andy. As the last of the Real Salt Lake originals, he also embodies the history of our club and like the club Andy has had ups and downs and had to battle adversity in the last 6 years. Andy has always been a favorite of fans, he has always been a creative force on the pitch, and he brings a special energy which reflects his love of this game. The resurgence of Andy in 2010 was impressive but not to be outdone even by himself, Andy has come to camp fitter, faster, and more energized than ever before and as we have seen already in Champions League play, Andy isn't getting older he is getting better.
Will Johnson, a couple years ago someone described him as the "Energizer Bunny of RSL", he is a hard worker who is capable of chasing down the ball or opposing players no matter where they are on the pitch. You find him breaking up plays one second and then firing a blistering shot on goal the next, you find him chasing the action on the pitch from the first whistle to the last. Will has been asked several times by the RSL staff to do something different, to fill in at a new position, to adjust something he is doing, and each time he responds by exceeding expectations. He is the guy you have to force off the pitch, because he likely won't be leaving unless you make him. How was all of this rewarded? A nice new contract that will keep him playing for RSL for years to come, and that is a very good thing.
Ned Grabavoy, seems to have found a home at RSL, after bouncing around the league and he has been and important player both off the bench and when starting in matches. He is one of those guys who can defended well in the midfield but can also make some brilliant passes and as he proved in the PK shootout in Chicago in 2009 can be counted on for a clutch goal when needed. His ability to do so many things well makes him a valuable asset to have on the roster as his 3 goals and 1 assist last year proved. I expect that he will share time with Andy Williams rotating in and out as the 4th midfielder, but with the Gold Cup, international call ups, and the unavoidable injuries that will happen you can expect his versatility to allow him to fill in whenever he is needed.
Collen Warner logged 426 in MLS action and 792 minutes overall for RSL in his rookie year, he found the back of the net once and in the final group stage match against Cruz Azul he showed why RSL selected him with their 1st round pick in 2010. Many people are using that performance to set high expectations for this second year player, but Collen has remained grounded and knows that with such a talented midfield that he will need to bide his time and prove himself both in practices and in the newly reformed reserve division. I expect during the long summer that we will see Collen prove himself to be a real game changer for RSL, he is a star in the making.
Jean Alexandre is entering his 3rd year with the team and for many the jury is still out on a guy that RSL shocked the league by taking in the first round of the 2009 draft, he played his college soccer at Lynn University (not exactly a hotbed of soccer). So while the learning curve has been tough he continues to show the raw ability that impressed the RSL staff, now it is about putting that ability to use and I expect him to be a player that RSL continues to look for off the bench as well as getting some starts. He has all the tools and the mentality to be a top defensive midfielder in MLS, then add in that he may have the hardest shot of all RSL players, and you see the bar being set high this year. It is likely that Jean will continue to be a player who gets called up for his national team (Haiti) which will help his continued development as a player, he has already proven to be a leader off the pitch with his efforts to help his native Haiti after last year's huge earthquake with charity efforts. He is another player who could be making big strides in 2011.
Luis Gil, at just 17 years old he enters his second year with the team and if you read any of my reports from practices Luis is a kid who continues to improve and looks more and more impressive each time. When RSL made the trade to get him from KC (who won him in a lottery), it was clear that he wanted to be here and that the team wanted him here. RSL has put no pressure on him to perform and with so much depth he hasn't gotten many minutes on the pitch in matches, perhaps no player on the RSL roster will benefit more from the return of the reserve division. Players like Luis could be very valuable as the profile of RSL is raised this year and other teams from around the globe come looking for their next player, it is our depth that is going to let us continue playing at the highest levels. Minutes should equal progress and development for Luis this year.
Nelson Gonzalez is a player who looked to be on the verge of big things last year and RSL expect a lot of him this year, he may be hampered a bit at the start of the year by some weight that he gained but I don't think that will hold him back. He has a good touch and great field vision for a young players, I think RSL may experiment with playing him at a couple different positions this year. Again here is a player who I think will make huge gains because of playing time in the reserve division, expect that when he gets on the pitch that he will continue to show those flashes of brilliant play that have hopes very high for him in 2011.
Arturo Alvarez had a busy off season, he was selected by the Portland Timbers in the MLS Expansion draft and then in the same day he was traded to Real Salt Lake for a 2011 second round draft pick. The 25 year old will be joining his third MLS club since joining the league in 2003, he has 101 starts and just under 10,000 minutes of playing time. In that time he has 24 goals and 18 assists, last season he had 3 goals and 1 assist in 1210 minutes of regular season play. He added 69 minutes in the playoffs with one assist as well.
He is a regular fixture on El Salvador's national team and now he will be for the Cobalt and Claret as well, there are some questions on his ability to adjust to the everyone defends mentality that RSL employs but I think he will do just fine and that the style RSL plays may actually be the best fit for his skills and abilities in MLS. It should be exciting to see what he can bring to the mix in 2011.
Once again WVHooligan has great things to say about the RSL midfield
1. Real Salt Lake - Top defense, one of the top keepers and the top midfield? Yeah, it's true. Honestly I had a hard time coming up with any plausible excuse to rank any other club above RSL in the midfield category. With guys like Will Johnson (who I think will have a huge year), Javier Morales (always a MVP candidate), Kyle Beckerman, and Andy Williams. The depth is there for the club to go deep once more this season.
It is this exhaustive list of midfielders who are either at the top of their game or on the verge of major breakout seasons that have most pundits out there saying that RSL has the best and deepest midfield in the league, and I am not going to argue with them.
OFF MY SOAPBOX