While the last couple weeks I have focused on the changes that will hit MLS in 2012, it is now 2012 and it is time to look at the changes that will impact Real Salt Lake this year.
It was a chilly November evening at Rio Tinto Stadium when the following 18 players made up the team fighting for the 2008 Western Conference Final: Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Dema Kovalenko, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Clint Mathis, Yura Movsisyan with Kyle Reynish, Tony Beltran, Kenny Deuchar, Fabian Espindola, Robbie Findley, Ian Joy, and Andy Williams on the bench.
You can fast forward to November 2011 when 12 of those same players (Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson, Javier Morales, Kyle Reynish, Tony Beltran, Fabian Espindola, and Andy Williams), and 9 of them played in the match (Rimando, Russell, Olave, Wingert, Beckerman, Morales, Espindola, Williams, and Beltran) would battle in the Western Conference Final again.
I don't believe you will find a single team in MLS with that much consistency on their roster over 3 years. Teams with high success or high failure rates often see their rosters turn over quickly, but for RSL the deliberate attempts to "keep the band together" haven't gone un-noticed and now those attempts are meeting the league's salary cap and it will cause some changes for RSL in 2012.
more after the jump:
So what changes will hit RSL in 2012? First up are the trades, Robbie Russell to DC United and Jean Alexandre to San Jose, RSL gets in return some supplemental draft picks which they are likely to use to try and find some young talent that they can develop over the next couple years. Then are the players lost in the drafts, first was Collen Warner who was taken by Montreal in the Expansion Draft, then Arturo Alvarez was taken in the re-entry draft. Then you have the players who's options weren't picked up or were waived: Nelson Gonzalez, Blake Wagner, Tim Melia, and Rauwshan McKenzie. Finally, the unexpected retirement of RSL original Andy Williams, which will probably be the change most noticed by fans.
These changes will result in RSL losing over 6,700 minutes of first team playing time, 4 goals and 12 assists. Folks that isn't going to be easy to replace, and with the limitations of the salary cap, you can expect that RSL will be looking for younger players and/or players who can be added without major hits to the salary cap.
So where will RSL find these new players? Well we know that there have been trips to South America, Germany, and the Far East by the RSL staff, we know that the team had a combine for potential players in Arizona last month where 30 players showed their stuff to the RSL training staff. We have had RSL scouts at the NCAA Tournament and on Friday MLS will kick off their Combine with 60 prospective players, as they try to get attention of teams who are getting ready for next week's MLS Draft.
Real Salt Lake will have 3 picks in the first two rounds of the draft on Thursday, Jan 12th - the 17th, 24th, and 36th. The MLS draft will only feature two rounds this year, with the other rounds moving to the "Supplemental" draft which will take place the following week.
Let's be clear about a couple of things, first RSL will need to finalize details in making Yordany Alvarez's loan a permanent move. He showed all the potential to be a long term piece of the RSL midfield, and in a year when we could be losing players like Will Johnson, Kyle Beckerman, and Luis Gil for World Cup Qualifying, the Olympics, and other national team call ups, and with Javier Morales still needing to fully recover from the ankle injury last year, I think it could be Yordany who could be a real difference maker for RSL in 2012.
Second, we still need more midfield help, I am happy we were able to get a new deal done with Ned Grabavoy, but the loss of Collen Warner, Andy Williams, and Arturo Alvarez leaves us with 3 fewer offensive options in our midfield. I have to believe that with all the overseas tours, that RSL will be looking to add some offensive flair during the January transfer window that is now open. I think the numbers for our midfield will likely come from the MLS draft, but the RSL philosophy of not putting too much pressure on young players too quickly will mean that I expect at least one experienced midfielder to be picked up before RSL heads to their preseason camp. Collen Warner was the #16 pick in the 2010 MLS Draft.
I am not sure why, but I have a strong feeling that RSL will also be looking overseas or around MLS for a defender, in the past they have shown a preference for experienced defenders but perhaps the quick success of Chris Schuler has changed their mind a bit on this topic. One should remember that Chris Schuler was the #39 pick in the 2010 MLS Draft.
I don't suspect that RSL will trade draft picks for allocation dollars like they did last year, it is clear that for RSL the next 24 months are huge as they make another run at the Champions League, but they are a team that needs to get younger at a number of positions and 24 months is just about the normal amount of time that RSL likes to have their young players continue developing before putting pressure on them to perform.
I am going to be honest, I am not sure how an aging RSL will do in 2012, my hopes are high that Alvaro Saborio will recover quickly and be ready for MLS action by April, that Jamison Olave will be able to go the full season without injury. My biggest question is can Javier Morales find the form that he had at the start of the 2011 season? I know what the doctors have said, but one only has to look at the fact that RSL had 1 win after he returned last year. Now I know there are multiple reasons why the team struggled, but when you get your star player back and you win just 1 match in your final 9 including the playoffs, well that makes me worry.
It is clear that after 3 full seasons of little change and a lot of success, that 2012 will be a very different kind of season. I have a lot of hope, it comes from having some great young players who I think will be more important than ever for RSL, guys like Luis Gil (who mlssoccer.com picked as the breakout player for 2012), Cody Arnoux and Chris Agorsor who could both provide us with depth at forward, Chris Schuler and Tony Beltran who are the future of our back line.
Yet, I have a hard time thinking that without the deep pockets of the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and other teams in the league, that RSL won't struggle to keep up over the course of a very long season. The new schedule format won't do RSL any favors as they now will face teams from the West(which still appears to be the stronger Conference) an additional time, but it is clear that RSL has a mission in mind and that mission is to win the Champions League.
Having come so close RSL now knows that the rewards, prize money, national attention, sponsors, allocation money, and more are worth the risk, so they have done what they could to secure the roster that they will go forward with as they make another run towards qualifying for the Club World Cup.
One thing is sure, it will be a season of changes for RSL, more new faces than we have seen in the last several years, as the team continues their progress towards building a franchise that continually competes for championships, it may require that someone reaches deep into their pockets.
So what are your thoughts about the 2012 season?
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