RSL’s striker corps will be evaluated as it pertains to their perceived value as well as their actual salary cap hit in the third and final installment of this series.
Having an extra attacker on the pitch seems all fine and dandy but if it doesn't lead to more goals some start questioning the notion. Despite the belief that more strikers inherently means more goals but it doesn't necessarily manifest that way. One reason could be that there are more moving parts on the field; more players that want to get involved in the attack. Okay, that sounds good right; not always. As more players try to get the ball, cutting runs can be lost and the opposing defense can mow down the attackers opportunities.
This is what happened to Real Salt Lake early in the season. The absence of Joao Plata and not yet signed Juan Manuel Martinez made it hard for the Claret-and-Cobalt to get anything going offensively. In fact, in the first half of the season, RSL scored a mere 15 goals while conceding 20 and only managed to create 118 chances – far lower than that of years prior (155 in 2014 and 221 in 2013). Attempting to get more players involved in the attack, RSL lacked that simple magic in front of the net that they had before.
Wingers and Trequartistas
Depth chart: Plata, Martinez, Garcia, Allen, Saucedo
The return of Plata was touted as a remedy for the Claret-and-Cobalt’s stagnant attack. But the young attacker only scored once in his first ten matches. He too had to adjust to a new position and role with the club. Not only did Plata take up the mantel of Designated Player, but he had to become one of the squads’ playmakers. Siting on the wing, Plata’s transition to a trequartista was not as smooth as many had hoped. While he had shown he had the technical ability in the past, Plata struggled to string passes together and open up space for his teammates. Plata only created six chances in his first nine matches, but as the season continued he began to improve. By the end of the season Plata had created 20 goal scoring opportunities – three of which were assists – and became more of the Designated Player that RSL needed.
In August, the Claret-and-Cobalt found the key to making their new formation work, his name is Juan Manuel Martinez – "El Burrito" in short. This veteran Argentine striker was finally able to find the space between the opponent’s midfield and defensive lines. Operating in this space, Martinez was able to exploit the opposition and secured a goal and an assist in the seven matches he started.
With Martinez on the right and Plata on the left, RSL’s creative juices began to flow but the season was all but over.
The young Olmes Garcia also provided depth on the wing. And before the ‘Olmes Garcia is not contributing argument’ begins, let’s recall that this year all players had to adjust to vastly different roles and Garcia contributed more goals and scoring opportunities than anyone his age or younger – the exception being Plata. His performance improved twice what is was at the beginning of the year to the end. Furthermore, his $130,000 pay check is less than four percent of the club’s entire budget and below the average $174,500 cap hit when compared to the entirety of MLS players.
Other young players Jordan Allen and Sebastian Saucedo also contributed on the wings and as both of their salaries do not count against the budget, RSL appear set on the wings for the future.
Depth chart: Jaime, Sandoval
The trade of Alvaro Saborio was bittersweet for many RSL fans. Despite being the Claret-and-Cobalt’s all-time leading goal scorer, his production seemed to be nonexistent in 2015 – at least for RSL. With his trade, however, came new possibilities for Devon Sandoval and Sebastian Jaime.
Even with his stint on the wing, Jaime proved to be more effective in the central role. As the second leading goal scorer for RSL this season, Jaime scored the majority of his goals while playing the center forward role. This could be the result of him being more familiar with this position – playing it in both Chile and Argentina – but whatever the case he managed to get his first goal with RSL and tack on a subsequent four more.
Because of his stature and playing style, Jaime was never really a target forward for RSL. He dropped deep and played more of a False 9 role when in a center position. This helped other RSL players get more involved in forward play – something RSL lacked when playing with Saborio.
Filling the more traditional target-man role, Devon Sandoval was rather resurgent this year. Coinciding with the arrival of Martinez, Sandoval looked strong in the center forward role. Likewise, when Sandoval took the pitch for RSL in 2015, production was better than when he was absent. This trend carried over from when Saborio was the starter to after his departure.
For all his merit, the previous stats can be deceiving, however. Sandoval had the worst performance by far of any of his fellow RSLers. Accumulating a -17 score (according to Squawka), he struggled to keep position and win duels. For example, despite his physique, Sandoval only won 44 out of 159 areal duels – that is 28 percent. Okay, so he is 24 and in only his third season with the club, but dagnabbit he has to start being an impact player if he wants to remain on the squad – even with his minimum salary cap hit of $60,000 – or a Real Monarchs' player or even an academy player might sneak in and steal his spot.
So while each of the Claret-and-Cobalt’s center forward bring a little bit of different flavor to the side, there is still room for improvement.
Addressing RSL’s 2016 needs
RSL already has one in Sandoval, but they also already have a few open senior roster slots, too. With the departure of Saborio, RSL could really benefit from the addition of a veteran target-man. This would not necessarily negate Sandoval’s position on the team, instead it could be beneficial as he would be able to continue to develop under the supervision of a peer.
Someone like Alan Gordon would fit this bill superbly. He is not a player that needs to start every match but he knows how to be a difference maker in clutch movements. He is okay with occupying the bench and makes the most out of his time when his name is called. If the Claret-and-Cobalt can find this kind of player available, they should add him to the squad.
Alternatively, there are rumors that Yura Movsisyan might become available. As RSL already holds his rights if he was to return to MLS, why not just sign him up for a couple of years? And if not, RSL could always trade those rights for a handsome fee.
P.S. – We (RSL Fans) miss you, Movsisyan. Why not come home?
Possible wants: . . .
Like any organization, Real Salt Lake will continuously be on the lookout for quality strikers. While the forward corps at RSL is just about at its limit, scouts will continue to watch strikers and evaluate how they would perform in the organization.