Josh Saunders was a surprise in preseason camp in 2013. Fresh off another MLS Cup with the Los Angeles Galaxy, Saunders was released by the champs before the new year. Knowing what kind of commodity was just freed, Real Salt Lake jumped on the chance to snatch him up as a potential back-up to Nick Rimando.
But this raised a few questions about the goalkeeper pool in Sandy. Having just acquired former RSL draft pick Jeff Attinella from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the stable was suddenly overflowing with backstoppers; Lalo Fernandez rounded up the pack in the fourth seat, too.
Knowing Rimando would most likely be called up to US national team duty for both World Cup qualifying and CONCACAF Gold Cup, GM Garth Lagerwey needs to be given credit for making the acquisitions he did. Rimando missed a total of seven games for RSL in 2013. Of those seven, Saunders was in net for three of them, winding up with an even 1-1-1 record.
As fans of the team will know, the unfortunate goal kick Saunders took in the 51st minute of the July 13th match in Frisco, Texas, would be his last action for the year. Immediately upon contact with the ball, the ‘keeper dropped, knowing something was wrong. It was later discovered he had torn his ACL on the kick. It was a bizarre moment, especially after such a quality performance he had in that game.
Despite Saunders' previous match against FC Dallas (a 2-0 loss in Frisco in March) which saw RSL as a team struggle with the Hoops' early-season run of form, his in-game acumen was pretty much par for the course as related to his past seasons in LA. Saunders made his mistakes -- questionable technique and positioning on the first goal; sloppy footwork and subsequent turnover on the second -- but he made his saves to keep his team relatively in the game.
Likewise against the Philadelphia Union, a 2-2 tie at home on July 3rd. Over-zealous defensive efforts by Carlos Salcedo, an extremely controversial red card to Lovel Palmer which put RSL down one man, and a no-call on an Antoine Hoppenot pull-down on Nat Borchers for the second Union goal were what did us in that day. Saunders came up huge to keep the game within reach, making a save on Sebastien Le Toux's breakaway in stoppage. He also contributed the long ball that eventually wound up as a handball in the box for an RSL PK.
The progression of Saunders' performance shows what he was capable of with more playing time. And it's what we all expected of him when he came into camp: solid foundational skills mixed with natural talent at the position -- and his obligatory, absent-minded mistakes along the way.
Nothing should be taken from his second match in Frisco, though. The 3-0 blanking was the first win for RSL not only in Dallas, but in the state of Texas, too. Saunders was a huge factor in that milestone. It's just an unfortunate ending to what might have been a very good relationship in the future, culminating in his eventual release from the club in early December.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2013 season and previewing the 2014 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.