In this series, we are going to evaluate Real Salt Lake's needs going into the offseason. As such, the worth of each player on Real Salt Lake's roster will be evaluated as it pertains to their perceived value as well as their actual salary cap hit. First on the list: the defensive line.
A year ago it seemed Real Salt Lake would remain stable for the foreseeable future. After their seventh consecutive post-season appearance, second year head coach Jeff Cassar proposed significant changes to the organization. A winning record of 15-8-11 prompted Dell Loy Hansen to support such industrious endeavors.
Only a year into the RSL 3.0 update, criticisms have already surfaced. Fielding an 11-15-8 record, the squad's results emulate a mere dyslexic model of years prior. Similarly, a disheartening -10 goal differential is something RSL will look to improve. At the forefront of the discussion, RSL's coaching staff will have to address holes in the defense.
Depth chart: Phillips, Mansally
The departure of Chris Wingert to New York City FC opened the door for Abdoulie Mansally to make the left-back position his. One of the cheapest players on the roster, Mansally struggled with consistency at the first team level. Knowing this, the coaching staff brought in Jamaican international Demar Phillips. With a $140,000 salary cap hit, Phillips is a reasonably affordable player for his skill set. Still, the left-back position was one of the weak-points of RSL's 2015 season.
Statically ranked the worst player on the pitch for RSL for a combined 14 times, the left-back position left much to be desired.
Defensive breakdowns hurt RSL as the evermore common wingers were able to penetrate the RSL defense and cross dangerous balls into the box. If RSL is to decrease their 1.41 goals against average, left back would be a great place to start.
Depth chart: Beltran, Allen?, Glad, Okwuonu
Easily the best and most steady defender RSL has, Tony Beltran secured this position as his own. He continues to look strong in defense and was a force to be reckoned with in the attack. During the 2015 campaign, he added even more to his game adapting to the 4-3-3 and became one of the league's best two-way players - getting more and more dangerous in the attack as the year went on while still coming up with the big defensive saves when called upon. At $195,000, Tony is one of the bigger players as it pertains to the salary cap for the Claret-and-Cobalt. Still, Mr. Reliable proves time and time again that he is worth every dime, being able to play on either the right or the left.
As for Jordan Allen, this young, complete player has shown he has talent at right-back but is this a position he should be considered for in the future. While the jury is still out on his best position, Allen could easily step in when needs-be.
The Homegrown player Justen Glad and the freshman draftee Boyd Okwuonu sit just behind that in the depth chart and provide very cheap options to be called upon when needed. With both of these players getting experience with the Real Monarchs and with the U.S. National youth squads, the Claret-and-Cobalt can remain confident that right-back will remain one of the squad's strongest positions.
Depth Chart: Schuler, Olave, Maund, Vasquez, Kavita
At 34 years old, Jamison Olave's age has begun to show and Chris Schuler remains perpetually the victim of injury. In other words, the Claret-and-Cobalt's center-back pairing has suffered greatly throughout the 2015 campaign. For example, it would be unthinkable for the Olave of old to suffer from many defensive hiccups, but this year he led the team in just that and Schuler was not there to cover for his partner as he only appeared in five matches. Silly miscues and miss-reads of play by center-backs put pressure on the goalkeeper who time and time again were forced to make evermore acrobatic saves but lead to a -25 goal differential when compared to the previous year. The once (nearly) impenetrable Claret-and-Cobalt backline looks nothing more than battered ramparts.
The first thing RSL needs to alleviate is the budget spend on what stats support as a subpar center-back corps. The organization spends $675,000 on a core of five players - Olave, Schuler, Phanuel Kavita, Aaron Maund, and Elias Vasquez. This accounts for roughly 20 percent of RSL's budget and the $ 290,000 price tag of Olave is a whopper. Understanding this once MLS Defender of the Year is a brutal physical force on the pitch, his benefits no longer outweigh the sheer dollar figure the club pays for his services.
Schuler remains a cheaper and younger option than his aforementioned counterpart. At $165,000, he is definitely a budget player when it comes to RSL's starting XI. The 28-year-old, however, has continued to be hampered by injury missing most of the 2016 season. Other options include Homegrown player Kavita, newly seasoned veteran Maund, and promising youngster Vasquez, all of which are strong players to build a foundation upon. Maund, for instance, has been playing far beyond his $60,000 minimum wage paychecks but does not appear to be a sterling starting quality player.
Therefore, if RSL looks to improve defensively, investing in a new starting quality center-back would be a good option for 2016 has the youngsters in the depth chart continue to develop. With Olave's contract expiring at the end of the year, RSL should really consider funneling the money to other defensive options to strengthen the backline.
Depth chart: Rimando, Attinella, Fernandez
The Claret-and-Cobalt's goalkeeping contingent still remains the envy of the league. For example, backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella would easily be a starter at any other club in the league and would be here if it was not forNick Rimando, the league's all-time leading shutout record holder, manning the goal. With two top quality goalkeepers at their disposal, the goalkeeping roster already looks strong.
Furthermore, the promising, young Lalo Fernandez sits just behind them in the depth chart. Despite being the third-string keeper for RSL, Lalo has locked down the starting position with the USL Monarchs. Earning match minutes has already improved his game as we witnessed a vastly more experienced Lalo take the pitch at the end of the year compared to the beginning.
With that in mind, the Claret-and-Cobalt are set in terms of goalkeepers for the 2016 season and there is no argument that can really be made for the club to go pick up another keeper.
Addressing RSL's 2016 needs
Needs: Reliable first-team quality center-back
Going into the offseason the coaching staff and team management will have to address the center-back situation if they hope to avoid another year of the Claret-and-Cobalt's defense resembling Swiss cheese. This is easily remedied as Olave's contract is up and his big cap hit can easily be used to find a quality defender.
Possible wants: Left half-back with stronger defensive skills
RSL's left-backs were constantly getting into the attack but they left much to be desired at the defensive end. And while not everyone can be a Tony Beltran, RSL could want to look into a more defensive half-back to slot in on the left of the backline. But with only a single slot left on the roster it does not appear that the Claret-and-Cobalt would use it on a left-back with two already on the team and a third player that can play the position. Therefore, RSL could look into a trade for a talented half-back in the league — say a Chris Klute on a crowded Columbus Crew S.C. side or even an out of favor Corey Ashe in Orlando — but do not expect RSL to go out of their way in this search.