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Pre-Season Reality Check for Real Salt Lake

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So without any action on the pitch it is easy to get caught up in either despair or hype about Real Salt Lake, with so many off season losses, 9 players no longer with the team and 8 new names picked up (1 HGP , 6 draft picks, 1 trade).

Now I am never going to claim that we can put the expectations of the players no longer with the team immediately onto the incoming rookies, heck I wouldn't do that with veteran players either. Real Salt Lake plays a rather unique system in MLS where all the players have defensive responsibilities and all of the midfielders are asked to do a combination of both defensive and offensive play making. We have seen that it takes a good part of a year for most experienced players to get up to get on the same "sheet of music" as the rest of the team, and in the past RSL has allowed younger players a couple seasons to catch up.

That isn't going to be the case this year, it was a very fortunate thing that RSL was able to get a player that a lot of experts considered the college player most ready for MLS, and a player who's style matches how RSL plays. I do think that Enzo Martinez is probably going to see more minutes this year than any rookie player has in a long time for RSL, and both of our second round picks could be pleasant surprises but that has yet to be seen. RSL will invite a number of players to camp with them beyond our recent draft picks, we should have a final number and names early next week as the team reports to Salt Lake City for the start of the preseason.

after the jump I take a closer look at who has left RSL and those who will be fighting for those spots:

I know that is hard to compare players that we know with draft picks or home grown players that we generally don't know much about but you can see how some of the open slots might be filled:



G Tim Melia (11/23: waived)

GK Lalo Fernandez

M Collen Warner (11/23: expansion draft)

M Sebastián Velásquez

D Robbie Russell (11/29: trade to D.C.)

D Diogo de Almeida

M Jean Alexandre (12/1: trade to San Jose)

F Oliver Kupe

M Arturo Alvarez (12/5: Re-Entry Stage 1/Chivas USA)

F Emiliano Bonfigli

M Andy Williams (12/5: retired)

M Enzo Martinez

D Nelson González (12/12: option declined)

M Benjamín Ubierna

D Rauwshan McKenzie (12/12: option declined)

D Leone Cruz

M Blake Wagner (12/12: option declined)

So on a position by position basis you can see that we still have some gaps, and depth in the midfield and experience on defense are still what I see as the areas that still probably need to be addressed. I am confident in what RSL has been able to do in the past and I am always amazed how people quickly forget that.

The biggest holes will be the guys who played over 1,000 minutes for RSL, Robbie Russell on defense and Collen Warner and Andy Williams in the midfield. So first we know that Collen and Andy saw more minute last year in part due to the injury to Javier Morales. I am hopeful that Javi will be back to 100% this year, we also know that we saw huge development from Luis Gil in the midfield and I expect that he will see his minutes increase from 1,288 last year to closer to 2,000 this year. Perhaps the biggest question mark for me is the status of Yordany Alvarez, he was able to contribute 419 minutes last year, and if we are able to get his loan extended or a permanent move done, I would expect his minutes to increase in a big way as well.

I do think that the trade for Leone Cruz will prove to be a smart move, he is a know quantity to the RSL staff who saw him during a couple of reserve matches he played for RSL last year. I actually had him as the player I hoped RSL would select in last year's draft.

It is really important for people to also understand the roster structure of MLS, each team is allowed up to 30 players, there is the senior roster which is up to 20 players (at least 18) which count against the salary cap. Then there is the "off-budget" roster which can include up to 10 additional players. I expect that we will likely leave two of the "off-budget" slots open and get a $70K allocation allowance for doing so.

I expect that the following players will be on the RSL senior roster this year: Nick Rimando, Kyle Reynish, Chris Wingert, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Tony Beltran, Chris Schuler, Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales, Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio, Chris Agorsor and Cody Arnoux. That is 15 players, when/if we complete the deals for Paulo Jr. and Yordany Alvarez, I expect both would be added to that list. This means that RSL will need to add at least one more player to their Senior roster, depending on the deal offered to either Sebastian or Diogo, they could easily be in one of those spots (if not both of them).

The Off-Budget roster includes HGP's and GA's, so it will include: Luis Gil (GA), Enzo Martinez (GA) , Donny Toia (HG), Nico Muniz (HG), Lalo Fernandez (HG), and likely any of the players selected in the supplemental draft.

One concern for RSL is international spots, while most teams have 8 slots available, RSL has just 6 due to some trades completed by the Ellinger/ Pastorino era. Several of our draft picks would currently count as international players (some are already in the process of getting their green cards, as our a couple of current players). Currently RSL has: Alvaro Saborio, Javier Morales, and Fabian Espindola in international spots, and if Paulo Jr.'s deal is complete he would require one of those spots as well. I don't believe that this will be an issue for RSL as I expect at least a couple players to be getting their green cards before the roster deadline date.

Now all of this can change in a minute, an injury, a free agent signing, a trade, and countless other things can and most likely will impact the RSL roster before the season starts, but as I said before I have trust in the RSL staff who have delivered results each of the last 4 seasons. RSL has been in 3 Conference finals the last 4 years, they were the first MLS team to play for the Champions League title and I expect that this year will see the team once again fighting as one of the top teams in MLS.